UEFA Cup Semi-Finals Set
Luca Toni continued to justify his massive transfer fee as his brace in extra-time rescued FC Bayern München’s UEFA Cup campaign from being derailed by Spanish club Getafe on Thursday. His 120th minute header allowed Bayern to steal the tie on away goals after an action packed 3-3 second leg draw.
Getafe have to feel hard done by, having gone down to 10 men from the sixth minute when Rubén De la Red normally a midfielder but deployed at centre-back because of injuries, was sent off for a foul on Miroslav Klose just outside the Getafe penalty area. Not willing to capitulate, Getafe took a 1-0 lead just before halftime on a solo effort from midfielder Cosmin Contra. Visiting Bayern fans reacted violently to the goal by tearing up seats at one end of the stadium before they were quelled by the police.
Getafe clung to that lead and should have extended it midway through the second half when substitute Braulio sprinted clear and rounded Oliver Kahn only to slip over on the wet turf as he lined up his shot. The roller-coaster ride began two minutes from the end of normal time when Bayern equalised on a strike from midfielder Franck Ribery. Heading into extra time, one would have thought that Bayern should be the stronger side but they quickly found themselves down 3-1 as Getafe potted two quick goals goals from midfielder Francisco Casquero and Braulio within three minutes of the start of extra time.
It was then time for Luca Toni to take centre stage. His first goal was created when Getafe keeper Roberto Abbondanzieri dropped a Mark van Bommel cross at his feet and the Italian striker does not often make mistakes when presented such opportunities. Still trailing 3-2 and with time running out Bayern goalkeeper Oliver Kahn piled forward into the opposition area, disrupted the Getafe defence as he got a touch on the ball and Toni headed home to take the score to 4-4 on aggregate, sealing the German club’s place in the semi-finals.
You can’t help but feel bad for Getafe and Contra who put his disappointment aside to say that “nights like that make football special” after his team’s elimination from their first season in European competition. Getafe still have a Copa del Rey final on April 16th against Valencia CF to look forward to and I will be cheering them on in that one.
Bayern will now face FC Zenit St. Petersburg on 24 April and 1 May after Zenit hung on to dispatch Bayer Leverkusen despite losing the second leg at home 1-0. They had built up a 4-1 lead in the first leg in Germany so had little to do in order to advance on Thursday but still turned in a good showing and were a bit unlucky to lose. After weathering an initial storm by Leverkusen, the Russian side finished the match stronger than their German-based opponents and had Anatoliy Tymoschuk not missed his penalty kick, the match would have ended in a draw. Ironically, it was a Russian-born striker, Dmitri Bulykin, that scored the only goal of the game for the German side.
Perhaps the most impressive display of the day came from Fiorentina, who scored a 2-0 win over PSV Eindhoven on the strength of two goals from Romanian striker Adrian Mutu. Mutu, who also scored in the first leg, had a strong match and linked well with strike partner Giampaolo Pazzini. PSV had a few chances to get back in the match but when Sébastien Frey saved Timmy Simons’ penalty on 80 minutes, the writing was on the wall for the Dutch side.
Fiorentina will face Glasgow-based Rangers FC after they dispatched Portuguese side Sporting Lisbon with a 2-0 away. Rangers played a conservative game and twice hit Sporting on quick counter-attacks. Their first goal was a well-worked counter that led to Jean-Claude Darcheville cooly slotting home while Steven Whittaker’s brilliant solo effort in the 90th minute sealed the victory. Their 4-5-1 system, though unpopular with some of their fans, has seen them concede only two goals in their last six UEFA Cup games.
Rangers will be hungry to make the finals as they have not tasted continental success since a European Cup Winners’ Cup victory in 1972. Fiorentina have to go even further back, winning the same Cup Winners’ Cup back in 1961. It is amazing that Fiorentina are even in the UEFA Cup considering they had to overcome a 15-point penalty last season (due to their part in the Italian match-fixing scandal). Fiorentina also lost their top goal-scorer Luca Toni to Bayern Munich this past summer but they have charged forward and are currently in 4th spot in Serie A which would see them attempt to qualify for next season’s Champions League.