CENTURION, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 12: Giampaolo Pazzini of Italy attends a Press Conference during 2010 FIFA World Cup on June 12, 2010 in Centurion, South Africa. (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)

UEFA Champions League Playoffs: Sevilla Sent To Europa League By Sporting Braga

Italy and Spain's fourth place teams are trailing ahead of the second legs of their Champions League playoffs, while the champions of Switzerland, Israel and Belgium are on course for group play.

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UEFA Champions League: Werder Bremen Deepens Italy's Woes; Hapoel, Basel, Partizan Through

Sevilla would have been a first pot team for the UEFA Champions League group stage draw, but with their elimination Tuesday at the hands of Portugal’s Sporting Braga, Milan likely becomes the second Italian team to be “seeded” for the group draw (joining Internazionale). That was the day’s silver lining for the Serie A, however, as a dramatic comeback by Werder Bremen at the Luigi Ferraris ensured Italy joined Spain in having a club eliminated before group stage.

Sampdoria got two early goals from Giampaolo Pazzini and an 80th minute tally from Antonio Cassano to take a 4-3 lead into the closing moments of their tie with Werder, but a goal at the death from Markus Rosenberg sent the tie into extra time, where Peruvian Claudio Pizzaro’s goal put the Bundesliga side into group stage with a 5-4 win.

Werder, who will also be a Pot A/seeded team for the group stage draw, helped Germany increase the UEFA coefficient gap between the Bundesliga and Serie A. Italy now needs to make up over five coefficient points to retain their third place, four Champions League spots standing.

In other Tuesday playoffs, the day’s biggest surprise took place in Anderlecht, where the Belgian champions conceded two goals to Serbia’s Partizan before forcing extra time with responses from Romalu Lukaku and Guillaume Gillet (the teams having drawn 2-2 in Belgrade last week). The scoreless extra period led to a shoot-out, from which Partizan advanced, winning 3-2. It is the first time since 2003-04 that Partizan has qualified for group stage, the last time a Serbian club made it that far in the competition.

Hapoel Tel Aviv had a more dramatic time of it against Salzburg than most had anticipated. Salzburg were easily defeated in Israel at the same stage last season, and having lost 2-3 last Wednesday, the Austrians were expected to provide little opposition for the Israeli champions. But an own goal from Douglas de Silva just before halftime evened the tie at three, putting Salzburg one score away from group stage. The Austrian champions ultimately came up short, with Hapoel adding a late goal from a 4-3 aggregate win.

And in the other day’s match, FC Basel went through as expected, though with unexpected ease. Carrying a 1-0 lead to Moldova for their match with FC Sheriff, the Swiss champions got a goal from Marco Streller and a brace from Alexander Frei to finish a 4-0 aggregate win.


UEFA Champions League: Sevilla's Weaknesses Exploited By Paciencia, Braga

Over the past week I’ve been harping on Sevilla’s inconsistency, something I felt would be their downfall against Braga. I never thought that inconsistency would lead to three goals while allowing four against Sporting Braga, but their ability to look world beaters one moment and world doormats the next was exploited by a team with Braga’s discipline. While Sevilla was able to get more goals than would be expected, they were never able to prevent Braga exploding out of defense and executing on counter attacks. As a result, Spain is down to three Champions League teams after Braga’s 4-3 win in Seville, eliminating Sevilla on a 5-3 aggregate.

Sevilla has the raw talent to get back into Champions League next year, but until they make some changes, they’re likely to maintain that Jekyll and Hyde behavior that’s submarined their last season-plus. They are great at building attacks down Jesus Navas’s right side, and with Diego Perotti supporting from the left by joining their two forwards in the penalty area, Sevilla has a base set-up that will work against most teams. Even the best left backs in the world are hard pressed to completely cancel out Navas, particularly if he’s getting help from Abdoulay Konko and Luca Cigarini.

But Sevilla needs more options. The gap between the forward pair and the two central midfielders is too large, and Cigarini is not being deployed high enough to bridge the space between defensive midfielder Didier Zokora and forward Luis Fabiano. As a result, Fabiano is having to drop deeper to promote the link-up play, leaving an increasingly ineffective Frederic Kanouté as their closest threat to goal (most of the time, a formation that forces your best goal scorer farther from goal is flawed). When their build-up play goes through the right, it leaves their 4-4-2 exposed to counters through the middle, putting too much of a burden on Didier Zokora to be a flawless destroyer. As we saw on the first Braga goal yesterday, when Zokora can’t make the key tackle, a central defense that just sold their best player (Sebastien Squillaci) is easily exposed.

Sevilla needs to start Alvaro Negredo in place of Kanoute, hope Ivica Dragutinovic returns to health soon, and start having left wing Perotti cut-in to above the arc (and not become a third forward) so he can support through the middle when Sevilla stretches right. Unlike Kanouté, Negredo can do some of the link-up work currently being done by Fabiano, keeping the Brazilian closer to goal. Dragutinovic will augment Squillaci’s loss, while Perotti’s deployment could help defend against counter attacks (or at least improve the numbers). Sevilla’s not going to switch from their 4-4-2 (nor should they), so they need to tweak.

But for all the scrutiny Sevilla deserves, Sporting Braga and their coach, Domingos Paciencia, deserves credit. Between his left-sided midfielder Luis Aguiar and the shading of a left-central midfielder Leandro Salino, Paciencia gave left back Elderson the help he needed on Navas, often allowing the full back to play narrow and help in the box. Those times Navas was able to get crosses in, Paciencia had Vadinho drop back into the defense and further help with numbers against Kanouté and Fabiano, allowing right back Silvio to devote his attention to Perotti. Paciencia had his team patiently wait for an opportunity when Sevilla over-committed, and César took advantage. Another strong match from Matheus in attack sustained their threat, and a hat-trick from Lima off-the-bench made sure Braga, though they gave up more goals than planned, never trailed.

Braga is a very limited side. In every player match-up we saw against Sevilla, their opposition had the superior player. Yet Portugal’s runners-up are not only through, they are through somewhat comfortably. Sevilla would have needed three more goals to beat them.

In group play, they’re in for a tough draw, as their low coefficient means they’ll be in one of the lower pots. However, their steadiness and discipline gives them the ability to take advantage of their opponents’ inconsistencies and shortcomings. That opportunism is owed to a coach who, starting his second year in charge of the club, has them in their first Champions League group stage.

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