For another year at least, Italian football will have to wait for the opportunity to celebrate potential continental cup competition success as a valiant Udinese effort fell just short of securing a UEFA cup semi-final place.
Trailing 3-1 from the first leg of the quarter-final tie with German outfit Werder Bremen, Pasquale Marino’s Zebrette went into the second leg knowing a 2-0 victory would be enough to see them through. In the end, the lead they gifted from the first leg was to prove too great a deficit as despite scoring three times Bremen – who lest we forget had eliminated Milan in the last-32 on the away goals ruling – were inspired once more by diminutive Brazilian Diego, a man publicly courted by Claudio Ranieri’s Juventus.
With Antonio Di Natale out for the remainder of the season, goal-scoring hopes rested on Azzurri ace Fabio Quagliarella, Alexis Sánchez and Antonio Floro Flores, yet it was to be midfield dynamo Gökhan Inler who opened the scoring with a superb shot from distance, boosting Friulani hopes with 15 minutes gone after being fed by Kwadwo Asamoah.
The visitors almost hit back immediately as Udinese predictably left space seeking that second goal, with Hugo Almeida seeing his effort flash wide and danger man Diego’s shot blocked bravely by Dias Felipe, whilst at the other end Sánchez’s cross was almost met by Floro Flores. Diego was to dampen the Italian side’s spirits after he waltzed into the box and confidently restored the advantage to Bremen following a dreadful error by Cristian Zapata.
Within just two minutes Quagliarella had forced Udinese right back into the tie with a lofted finish on the half hour mark, before amazingly hauling the Zebrette level on aggregate with a controlled left footed effort after neatly bringing down Inler’s ball. The momentum was with Udinese for the closing moments of a pulsating first half despite Sánchez having to be replaced by Simone Pepe due to a muscular problem. Both keepers were called into action as Gaetano D’Agostino and Claudio Pizarro were denied before the rain sodden half was closed.
Udinese started the second half well with a Quagliarella effort clipping the post, but it was that man Diego who again swung the tie in favour of the German side when he just about nodded in Almeida’s rebound from close range. Still unwilling to surrender, Pepe and Gyan went close either side of a weak Diego penalty appeal before Inler’s shot failed to beat Tim Wiese. With 20 minutes remaining, Maurizio Domizzi impeded Diego in the area with the referee pointing to the spot this time. Samir Handanovic dived low to his right, saving Diego’s spot-kick as the Brazilian’s hat-trick aspirations were scuppered, shortly followed by Udinese’s qualification hopes as Pizarro put the seal on Werder’s progression after 74 minutes, levelling the tie to 3-3 on the night and 6-4 on aggregate.
Battling bravely, there was still time for Quagliarella and Domizzi to go agonisingly close once more for the Italian side before the final whistle was blown and a standing ovation was given on an unforgettable night of European football at the Stadio Friuli where Werder Bremen progressed to the semi-finals, setting up an all German encounter with Martin Jol’s Hamburg.