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Giampualo Pazzini scored in the first half to give Sampdoria a 1-0 lead at the Weser Stadium only to have the linesman deny the goal. Flag raised, the Italian international had been judged offside - a fair call, though Pazzini would ultimately get a measure of redemption after a trying day for Italy's fourth-place finishers.
Though Sampdoria had taken their hosts into half-time drawn nil-nil, a beautiful curler from Clemens Fritz, a penalty converted by Torsten Frings, and a Claudio Pizarro's finish to a beautiful movement had the German club up 3-0 through regulation time. With Sampdoria having played a man down since before Frings' goal, the tie looked nearly settled. A three goal advantage without having allowed an away goal would be difficult to give-back in Genoa.
Then a moment of shock sent the excitement back into the tie, with one of Reto Ziegler's knifing crosses finding Pazzini, whose header beat Tim Weise to pull Sampdoria within two. As important, Sampdoria had their away goal, meaning a 2-0 win next Tuesday will send them into group play.
Werder was understandably stunned at match's end, having dominated throughout. While a Sampdoria possession-less effectively kept the play in front of them in the first half (limiting Werder to long shots), the hosts were more ambitious in the second half and found they were able to move through Samp's formation. The 3-0 scoreline was neither unfair nor an exaggeration. Bremen looked like a team that should be in Champions League while Sampdoria looked like a squad that hadn't played a competitive match since May.
Now with 90 minutes under their belt and a week to prepare, Sampdoria getting a 2-0 win next Tuesday is not-so-far-fetched. Bremen is in undeniably good shape, but a flashing moment well into second half stoppage time has given Sampdoria life.
Sporting Braga (Portugal) 1, Sevilla (Spain) 0
Goals: 62' - Matheus (BRA)
Sevilla hit a post early and looked to carry momentum from this weekend's defeat of Barcelona into the match in Braga, but the Portugal runners-up showed the same defensive prowess that made them so successful last season, and with Matheus's second half header, Domingos Paciencia has a result with which he can work in next week's return leg. For a club with the skills and style of Braga, a 0-0 at the Sanchez Pizjuanis attainable. If Sevilla shows the same inconsistency that defined their 2009-10 (as they have in the last week), Spain could be without a fourth Champions League side.
Partizan (Serbia) 2, Anderlecht (Belgium) 2
Goals: 54' - Gillet (AND), 58' - Cléo (PAR), 64' - Lecjaks (og) (PAR), 66' - Juhász (AND)
One of the more remarkable finishes you will ever see, a beautiful left-footed goal by Jan Lecjaks into the upper-left-hand corner of his own net threatened to scupper Anderlecht's trip to Belgrade, but a quick response that completed a span of four goals in 13 minutes allowed the Juliper League champions to go back to Belgium with two away goals and a draw. Partizan had been hoping for more, though coach Aleksandar Stanojevic seemed to understand the task at hand. Pre-match the manager said his team would attack the Belgians despite the Partizan's underdog status, and while the Purple and White exhibited a talent advantage at various points in the match, Partizan acquitted themselves well.
Red Bull Salzburg (Austria) 2, Hapoel Tel Aviv (Israel) 3
Goals: 3' - Enyeama (HAP), 28' - Pokrivac (SAL), 44' - Sahar (HAP), 53' - Shechter (HAP), 67' - Wallner (SAL)
The day's most exciting match featured a number of "cracking" goals, the first of whichwas a sublimely executed penalty kick by Hapoel goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama, who put his shot high into the left side netting to put the Israeli club up 1-0. The matches next tally was the goal of the day, with Nikola Pokrivac's left-footed volley from 25 yards out curling onto the inside of Enyeama's right post, slamming in for an equalizer.
Sahar's powerful header put Hapoel up just before half, and a well-taken breakaway goal from Etey Shechter gave the Tel Aviv club their winning score. Roman Wallner gave Salzburg a second goal, but one year after going out 5-1 to an Israeli club at the same point in the competition, the Austrians may be experiencing de ja vu.
FC Basel (Switzerland) 1, Sheriff (Moldova) 0
Goals: 54' - Stocker (BAS)
In addition to Valentin Stocker's goal, Basel had an early Alexander Frei score called back and a penalty kick saved. They were clearly the better team and could have had one-or-two more goals. Instead, they go to Moldovan next Tuesday having given Sheriff a chance to prevent a tenth straight exit before group stage.
No Italian team has ever won at the Weser Stadium, a fact that, until yesterday, made Werder Bremen a favorite ahead of today's match with Sampdoria. Then, Werder sold their best player.
Mesut Özil had one year left on his contract and had made it clear he was going to move. Though the €15 million the club got for him is far below what you'd expect for a player of his age and caliber, the market was deflated by the expiring contract and Özil's stated intent to join Real Madrid. Those were factors in a the simple equation for Werder: Is one year of Mesut Özil worth €15 million? They said no and allowed their playmaker to move-on.
While Özil was Werder's most important player, he certainly was not their only spot of quality. Claudio Pizarro had 16 goals in league last season. Aaron Hunt and Marko Marin have both seen time in the German national team. Captain Torsten Frings remains the anchor in midfield. Thomas Schaaf just needs one player, potentially Phillipe Bargfrede, to step into Özil's spot.
But for this match, Werder's bigger concern maybe at a defense that has to deal with Antonio Cassano and Giampaolo Pazzini. The duo combined for 28 league goals last season, and against an already sketchy defense that will be without starting central defender Nando, Werder is unlikely to keep Sampdoria off the scoresheet.
Sampdoria, however, will be dealing with a critical absence of their own. Coach Luigi Delneri left for Juventus after last season. Domenico Di Carlo has been signed from Chievo, where he'd spent two seasons training the Flying Donkeys to punch above their weight. Today's match will be his debut with Samp.
Sampdoria is looking to make their first appearance in Champions League since finishing second in the competition (European Cup) in 1991-92.
Sporting Braga (Portugal) versus Sevilla (Spain)
A Spain-Portugal match-up would normally be marquee at this stage of the tournament, but combine the attention to Werder-Sampdoria with the absence of Sporting Lisbon and Porto and you have a great match-up being relatively overlooked.
Braga had one of the best organized defenses in European soccer last season, the key to their surprising title push. They host a Sevilla team who, coming off their Supercopa win over Barcelona, always trouble opponents with their wide play. Diego Perotti and Spanish international Jesus Navas creating opportunities for Luis Fabiano and Frederic Kanouté will test a Braga defense that will be missing injured goalkeeper Quim.
Partizan (Serbia) versus Anderlecht (Belgium)
Anderlecht ran away with the Juliper league last season, complementing their strong Europa League run. Now the Purple and White looks to step into Belgian spoiler spot that's been occupied by Standard Liège over the last few seasons.
Most eyes from these parts will be focused on United States' midfielder Sacha Kljestan, but Partizan's focus should be on 17-year-old striker Romelu Lukaku, who is coming-off a season where he posted 15 goals in 25 matches as a 16-year-old.
Brazilian Cléo is Partizan's dangerman, who will also rely on Radosav Petrovic to be a threat from midfield.
Red Bull Salzburg (Austria) versus Hapoel Tel Aviv (Israel)
At the same stage last year, Salzburg was blown out of the tournament by then-reigning Israeli champion Maacabi Haifa. It's a result coach Huub Stevens hasn't forgotten, light-heartedly describing himself as terrified of this match-up. Though defending was Salzburg's failing last season (losing 5-1 in the playoff), this year their biggest task will be beating Vincent Enyeama, the Nigerian international who will be in goal for Hapoel. Eddie Gustafsson, captain and starting goalkeeper for Salzburg, is expected to miss the match with an injury.
FC Basel (Switzerland) versus Sheriff (Moldova)
Perhaps yesterday's display from Young Boys was an exhibit of Swiss strength? If so, Basel is a good bet to get past Sheriff, who have failed to qualify for group stage in each of their last nine attempts. This year, the Moldovans seem more confident, having pulled-off a mild upset in the last round, eliminating Dinamo Zagreb (leading to the firing of their coach). Sheriff's priority will be containing Alexander Frei and Marco Strellar, who helped lead Basel past Debreceni in the last stage.
Picks: Werder Bremen 2, Sampdoria 1; Sporting Braga 1, Sevilla 2; Partizan 2, Anderlecht 1; Red Bull Salzburg 1, Hapoel Tel Aviv 1; Basel 3, Sheriff 0;
For the embarrassment that was falling behind 3-0 within 28 minutes, Tottenham Hotspur were able to salvage a manageable result Tuesday in Bern against Young Boys.
The Swiss runners-up staked goals from Senad Lulic, Henri Bienvenu and Xavier Hochstrasser to the shock lead before Harry Redknapp adjusted, bringing-on Tom Huddlestone and moving Gareth Bale to left back, taking-off Benoit Assou-Ekotto in an attempt to plug the gaps in the defense's left-side. Spurs would hold for the rest of the match and get goals from Sebastien Bassong (just before half) and Roman Pavlyuchenko (late) to finish their 3-2 reclamation.
With two away goals, Spurs are in surprisingly good shape for next Wednesday's match at White Hart Lane. Then, all the excuses will be gone. They won't be playing on a plastic pitch. Relative inexperience won't be an issue. They'll be at home. None of these issues should have precluded a result in Bern, but having fought back to within one, Spurs may end-up escaping the playoff round without having to pay for their poor performance.
While many shook their head while watching what was unfolding at the Stade de Suisse, I couldn't help but smile. As a Young Boys club that I'd overlooked started to route Spurs, I was more than happy to be given reason to change my thinking, consider the errors in judgement I made leading up to the match, and accept that the club soccer world can still be a wonderfully unpredictable place, one where a defense-snapping pass from a little-known 22-year-old can force us to remember that there are great players and clubs beyond the the top eight or nine leagues.
Thank you, Moreno Costanzo.
Zenit St. Petersburg (Russia) 1, Auxerre (France) 0
Goals: 3' - Kerzhakov (ZEN)
Zenit manager Luciano Spalletti expressed regret that his team couldn't register a more decisive victory, a justified concern considering the extent to which the Russian leaders dominated the first half. In the second half, Auxerre found their legs, tested Vyacheslav Malafeev multiple times, had Dennis Oliech hit the woodwork, and looked a side capable to eliminating Zenit next week in France. When we looked into it last week, we found a team that wins leg one 1-0 usually goes through, so Aleksandr Kerzhakov's third minute conversion of a Danko Lazovic cross could prove decisive.
Dynamo Kyiv (Ukraine) 1, Ajax (Netherlands) 1
Goals: 58' Vertonghen (AJA), 66' Gusev (KYV)
You could see the tension leave Oleg Gusev after he scored Dynamo's equalizer, the Ukrainian midfielder salvaging his club's chance to reach another Champions League. Lying on his back near the left sideling, his celebration was more alleviation than elation. Kyiv would not lose at home.
Dynamo had been better for much of the match but looked set to rue not scoring early after Denis Garmash was dismissed in the 56th minute. A converted set piece - Remy de Zeeuw perfectly floating a ball onto the head of Jan Vertonghen - made Dynamo pay, but Gusev's equalizer gives Ukraine's runners-up a chance next week in Amsterdam.
It's amazing what a red card can do in these two-legged ties. Playing with ten men makes Dynamo's 1-1 a could-have-been-worse result. But they still gave up an away goal, were still drawn at home, and as a result they could miss group stage for the first time in five years.
Sparta Prague (Czech Republic) 0, Zilina (Slovakia) 2
Goals: 51' Ceesay (ZIL), 73' Orevac (ZIL)
Forward Momodou Ceesay scored from the middle of the Sparta area just after halftime, and when striker Tomas Oravec converted a corner-kick in the 73rd minute, the Slovak club had a decisive victory to take back to Zilina. Having played without their three key attacking components (suspension), Sparta's left out-on-their-feet in the tie. But - just to complete the analogy - the referee has not called the fight. Now resting in their corner, Sparta still have a chance to come back, though they'll need a dominant final round.
Rosenborg (Norway) 2, FC Copenhagen (Denmark) 1
Goals: 23' Iversen (ROS), 57' Henriksen (ROS), 84' Gronkjaer (COP)
Jesper Gronkjaer's 84th minute goal turned a decisive result into a precarious one for Rosenburg, who would now be eliminated with a 1-0 loss next Wednesday. Such is the power of the away goals rule that a singular event can redefine what had been a one-sided (if just-beginning) tie. Adding to the bad news for Rosenborg, star midfielder Anthony Annan picked-up a yellow card and will miss next Tuesday's return leg with an accumulation suspension. Annan was vital in the build-up to Rosenborg's second goal.
It's the play-off round of the 2010-11 UEFA Champions League. Twenty teams are paired-off to engage in ten, two-legged ties to decide the last spots in this year's group stage. Today, five of those matches kick-off their first legs, with return legs next Tuesday. Tomorrow, five more matches, including Italy's Sampdoria visiting Germany's Werder Bremen.
All amtches start at 2:45 p.m. Eastern with the exception of the match in St. Petersburg, which starts at 12:30 p.m.
Today's biggest attractions: England's Tottenham Hotspur and Russia's Zenit St. Petersburg, each of whom could end-up favored to get out of group stage.
Tottenham Hotspur has never qualified for Champions League, but their final step into Europe's premier club competition has been paved by a fortunate draw.
Spurs will take on Switzerland's Young Boys today, the first leg of their two-legged playoff for entrance into the 2010-11 UEFA Champions League group stage. The Swiss club represents a fortunate draw. The other possibilities were Sporting Club Braga (Portugal), Sampdoria (Italy), Auxerre (France), and Dynamo Kyiv (Ukraine).
Spurs manager Harry Redknapp isn't bothering with reverence for a sid ehe admits to knowing little about. As he says in today's Guardian report, "let's be honest, we should beat them, shouldn't we?" Yes, Harry, you should, though the soccer gods tend to frown on scoffing.
Redknapp seems more concerned with Astroturf. The Stade de Suisse in Bern's carpetted with the fake stuff, and like any paranoid manager with a cartilage-free captain, Redknapp's overreacting. It's absolutely true that Astroturf is horrible for both player and fan, but Redknapp's contention that one match on the turf would "kill" King's career seems hyperbole.
Like Tottenham, Young Boys have never been in Champions League, meaning this tie will produce a debutante.
Zenit St. Petersburg (Russia) vs. Auxerre (France) - Few clubs within UEFA have spent more than Zenit since the arrival of former Roma boss Luciano Spalletti. Having created seven points of room atop the Russian Liga, the former UEFA Cup winners can shift some of their focus to Champions League. After failing to qualify for the competition last year, Zenit's brought-in the likes of Alexander Bukharov, Alexander Kerzhakov, Danko Lazovic, Sergei Semak and Bruno Alves. With one of the deeper midfields on the continent, Zenit should be heavily favored to beat an Auxerre side whose captain, Benoit Pedretti, says is not built for Champions League.
Dynamo Kyiv (Ukraine) vs. Ajax (Netherlands) - Are you ready for some voetbol? Ajax barely advanced out of the last playoff round, eliminating Greece's PAOK on away goals. The result did little to quell sentiment that the Dutch league has severely waned, and against a Dynamo-side that performed respectably (in a group of death) in last year's Champions League, not even the threat of Luis Suarez can make Ajax favorites. For Kyiv, the match comes amidst rumors that attacker Artem Milevskiy could be on his way to Liverpool or Russia's Lokomotiv Moscow. If he doesn't play today, we'll know that the Kyiv star and Ukrainian international is likely moving-on.
Rosenborg (Norway) vs. FC Copenhagen (Denmark) - Two Scandanavian countries meet in a derby of sorts, with transfer speculation also hanging-over this tie. Rosenborg midfielder Anthony Annan, who starred for Ghana at the World Cup, has been trying to use this summer's performance as a springboard to a bigger lead. For Copenhagen, a team in financial trouble, the match carries greater importance. FCK is 1.5 billion kroner in debt, with a financier estimating a group stage birth being worth roughly 100 million kroner.
Sparta Praha (Czech Republic) vs. Zilina (Slovakia) - Another regional derby sees Sparta, who is focused on ending a five-year absence from the competition's group stage, without two key playmakers and their leading scorer. All of Marek Matějovský, Libor Sionko and Bony Wilfried will be missing for Jozef Chovanec, the Slovak coach looking to keep his country's club out of group stage. That kind of cross-over is not uncommon between the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Zilina has four Czechs in their sice; Sparta, three Slovaks.
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