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Udinese Champions League Heartache Continues

Udinese suffered heartbreak for the second consecutive year, crashing out of the Champions League play-offs on penalties after a 1-1 draw with Sporting Braga. Maicosuel’s error was decisive in the shoot-out, as his ‘Panenka’ style chip was easily plucked out of the air.

The Friulani earned a creditable 1-1 draw in Portugal and maintained the identical starting XI as the first leg, having made eight changes in Saturday’s 2-1 Serie A defeat to Fiorentina. Braga made just one switch, as Ruben Amorim replaced the injured Helder Barbosa.

Udinese started aggressively, but a howler from Willians in his own final third allowed Lima to go clear on goal and only a desperate ricochet off Zeljko Brkic’s ribcage saw the ball loop over an empty net. The goalkeeper had to make himself big and time his run perfectly to stop that going in.

Brkic was must less reliable on a corner after 16 minutes, failing to reach the ball and relying on Willians to clear practically off the line before a Braga player could get the tap-in.

Antonio Di Natale’s looping header was deflected on to the roof of the net from Diego Fabbrini’s cross. The captain then went on the counter-attack and fired wide with the outside of his boot.

Udinese did take the lead on 25 minutes with a well-worked team move. Fabbrini seemed to be closed down, but intelligently flicked up a pass for Dusan Basta, who lofted it straight to Pablo Armero at the back post for an on-rushing header from six yards.

Ruben Amorim nodded wide when getting in front of Basta, but a long-range Di Natale free kick took a touch off Maurizio Domizzi and Beto did brilliantly to fingertip it round the upright.

Armero nearly got a second just before the break on the counter, but Beto used his outstretched foot to parry the low strike from 10 yards.

Emmanuel Badu came on for Willians at half-time, as the Brazilian had given the ball away several times.

Leandro Salino curled over with his weaker left foot, but a free kick was touched on for Hugo Viana’s absolute rocket that Brkic palmed round the post.

Braga had a sustained period of pressure as they tried to level the tie on the night and on aggregate. Udinese broke forward and Di Natale sent Armero clear, but the midfielder hesitated and kicked the turf when one-on-one with the goalkeeper!

Moments later Alan hit a blockbuster that stung Brkic’s palms and a fierce Hugo Viana volley was over the bar.

Mehdi Benatia’s sliding challenge was crucial in the box and Ismaily’s long-range daisy-cutter was well smothered by Brkic.

New goalkeeper Brkic flew on 70 minutes to fingertip a fantastic Hugo Viana free kick out from under the crossbar. The shot-stopper had managed another great save from close range on Mossoro after Giovanni Pasquale’s error, but the defence let him down and Ruben Micael was allowed to nod into an empty net from six yards.

With this result, the tie would be all level on aggregate and in terms of away goals, so was heading towards extra time.

The frustration got the better of Di Natale, who was booked for a pointless kick on the back of Leandro Salino’s ankles. The Portuguese side were visibly sharper in terms of fitness levels and pegged Udinese back for long periods.

Maicosuel was the final substitution for Fabbrini and Di Natale had a good chance ruined by the incorrect offside flag nine minutes from time.

Lima’s free kick went round the defensive wall, but Brkic had it covered. On the counter immediately afterwards Di Natale was furious with Badu for the poor cross.

Basta hooked a wonderful Pinzi ball over the top, but Beto sprinted off his line to close down the Serbian.

There was controversy on 87 minutes when Maicosuel was pulling the trigger from just inside the box and Hugo Viana tackled him, either clipping his heels or getting the ball – the referee opted for the latter and it’s probable he just got a toe to it.

The finale was wide open at the Stadio Friuli with both teams pouring forward in the stifling August heat, but it had to go to extra time.

Braga thought they had scored another crucial away goal when Ruben Micael went clear on goal, but his cross-shot flashed all the way across the face of goal, inches past both the outstretched foot of Sporting teammate Lima and the far post.

A crucial Douglao intervention stopped the pass reaching Di Natale, who was already pulling the trigger. Mossoro was booked for barging Badu over and an awkward landing on his shoulder left the Udinese man in some pain.

On 104 minutes Beto rushed off his line to push the ball off Di Natale’s feet, but it fell to Pasquale and again the goalkeeper managed to get his body in the way.

It went into the second half of extra time and a corner eventually fell to Armero one-on-one, but once again Beto rushed off his line to hoof it clear from six yards after the midfielder’s first touch let him down. Braga went straight on the counter, forcing a desperate Maurizio Domizzi sliding tackle.

In stoppages, Hugo Viana’s free kick was well punched away by Brkic. Still neither side could take the tie, so it was perhaps fitting that a match with two fantastic goalkeeping performances should go to penalties.

Domizzi was up first and buried it with a powerful left-foot finish and Lima sent Brkic the wrong way. Pinzi fired low into the very near corner despite Beto guessing the right angle, while Custodio did the same.

Maicosuel tried to do an Andrea Pirlo/Panenka and chipped it down the middle, but Beto stood his ground and plucked it out of the air. Captain Di Natale went to reassure the summer signing.

Eder sent Brkic the wrong way. Armero was next up, who had scored but also missed several sitters during the game, and placed his penalty in the top corner.

Paulo Cesar placed a perfect spot-kick under the bar and Di Natale coolly slotted his away.

It was all down to the final Braga penalty and Ruben Micael, who sent Brkic the wrong way to secure Portugal’s entry into the Champions League and eliminate Udinese for the second year running.