Lazio leave Dragons’ Den empty-handed

Toni Martínez fired FC Porto to a 2-1 victory over S.S. Lazio at the Estádio do Dragão, ending his goal drought with an unlikely double. The ‘Dragons’ extended their unbeaten run to 13 games in the process, and take a slender lead into the return leg of their UEFA Europa League last 16 play-off.

As both sides came limping out of the traps, Lazio’s first sign of sharpness proved enough to break the deadlock after the home side were caught snoozing at a short corner. Luis Alberto was given time to angle his low cross, and Mattia Zaccagni produced an improvised finish to notch his fifth goal of the season in eye-catching fashion.

Porto boss Sérgio Conceição raised eyebrows by leaving Mehdi Taremi and Evanilson on the bench, the club’s two top scorers following Luis Díaz’s January departure, and despite a shaky start, the manager’s bold call was emphatically vindicated by stand-in striker Martínez. Having failed to find the net since October, the Spaniard produced just about the best header permissible by the laws of physics, expertly directing a mediocre cross into the bottom corner from beyond the penalty spot.

If Martínez’s first goal was surprising, the home crowd rubbed their eyes shortly after the break when the 24-year-old latched onto João Mário’s cross to give Porto the lead. Having gone a goal down, the ‘Dragons’ seemingly found inspiration from an unlikely source, and the striker almost sealed his first career hat-trick moments later when his snapshot forced Thomas Strakosha to protect his top corner. Lazio rallied in the closing stages as Sergej Milinković-Savić’s audacious back-heel trickled wide, but the visitors will face next week’s second leg nursing a narrow deficit.

Although the job is far from done, Conceição will be pleased with his side’s spirited performance against the ‘Eagles’, with whom he won their last Serie A title more than two decades ago. Lazio ultimately struggled without their 23-goal talisman, Ciro Immobile, and boss Maurizio Sarri will hope that his prospective return from illness makes the difference when Porto head to Rome.

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