The wounded lion roars

Going into the UEFA Cup semi-final against Sporting Lisbon, AZ Alkmaar’s coach, Co Adriaanse, saw his team’s chances of returning to Lisbon for the final as 51 per cent. This prediction was based on the 2-1 result achieved in the first leg at the Alvalade Stadium that, although a defeat, featured an invaluable away goal. Sporting served notice of their intent the previous weekend, with a stunning 3-0 away win against Portuguese title rivals, Braga. The author of all three goals in that game, the Chilean Mauricio Pinilla, was forced to miss last Thursday’s showdown, however, after injuring himself in training.

In one of the most exciting games witnessed in European Cup football this season, Alkmaar took only six minutes to score through Perez, tying the score at 2-2 but handing the advantage to the Dutch side on the away goal rule. The Super Liga’s top scorer on a mark of twenty-four, Liedson, then crashed in a right-footed shot on the stroke of half-time to edge Sporting ahead on aggregate. Twelve minutes before the end of normal time, Huijsegems levelled the tie after taking advantage of a misunderstanding in the Sporting area. The score read 3-3 overall, 2-1 on the night, as ninety minutes were up and referee Claus Bo Larsen signalled extra time. Jaliens found the back of the net in the 109th minute to send 8,500 home fans, crammed into the tiny stadium, wild and all seemed lost for the Portuguese side. As Claus Bo Larsen raised the whistle to his lips to end the game, Miguel Garcia headed the ball in to send Sporting Lisbon into the final in the Portuguese capital. Hollywood could not have come up with a tenser thriller and celebrations all over the country lasted long into the night.

Facing the Lions in their own arena on May 18 will be CSKA Moscow. Daniel Carvalho scored twice as the Russian side easily disposed of Parma 3-0 in a one-sided game marred by crowd trouble. Parma ‘keeper Luca Bucci was hit by a flare in the 20th minute and had to be replaced by Sebastian Frey. Should UEFA not take drastic action and disqualify the winners, CSKA will become the first Russian team since 1972 to play in a European final.

To facilitate Sporting’s final participation, the entire league programme this weekend, including the title decider between Sporting and Benfica, has been moved to Saturday.