Stefano Pioli hailed Lazio’s “great quality” in reaching the Coppa Italia final but next term’s UEFA Champions League remains his priority.
Lazio coach Stefano Pioli insisted he would still prefer to finish second in Serie A over winning the Coppa Italia after progressing to the final on Wednesday.
Pioli was thrilled with his team’s performance at the Stadio San Paolo as they defeated Lazio 1-0 to progress to the Coppa Italia decider 2-1 on aggregate, with the 49-year-old coach claiming he has believed in his squad’s “great quality” since the first days of pre-season.
But while Lazio’s win means they are just one game away from their second Coppa Italia title in three seasons, Pioli argued he would forgo that trophy in favour of overhauling archrivals Roma into second position in Serie A to qualify automatically for next season’s UEFA Champions League.
Third-placed Lazio (55 points) trail Roma by just one point with nine league games remaining this term – with the top two in earning direct qualification to the Champions League, while the third club must progress through the qualifying rounds.
“We got to the final and we want to win,” Pioli said.
“But to get into the Champions League without a qualifier is a very important goal for us.
“So if you ask me again, I saw again that I prefer to get in front of Roma in second place.
“We have nine finals to play in the league.”
Senad Lulic struck the winner for Lazio with 11 minutes remaining in Napoli, after the Bosnia-Herzegovina international started on the bench.
Pioli confirmed he had taken a conservative approach in the first half but then went for the win when he brought on Stefano Mauri and Lulic early in the second period.
“Everyone thought it was important to score to go through, for us it was crucial not to suffer goals,” he said.
The former Fiorentina centre-back added: “I wanted to stay balanced in the opening to be free from the opponent.
“I started with a top down, and many important players on the bench. Then we realised that we could be more daring, and we did.
“Since the beginning of the [pre-season] camp I knew I had a team with great quality… great technical values but also many human values.”
Pioli paid tribute to his entire squad: “In the group there is unity of purpose, the credit must be shared with everyone, especially with players who are not employed, which is a significant contributor to the daily work.”
Lazio will face Juventus in the Coppa Italia final in Rome on June 7.