Italian Serie A News, Results, Analysis and Features on Football Soccer

by guest writer Ryan Smith
Francesco Guidolin’s Udinese headed into the second-leg of tonight’s Europa Leauge Round of 32 tie without a win in four, knowing they needed a big result in Greece tonight.

The talismanic Antonio Di Natale was still sidelined with a foot injury, as was long-term absentee Mauricio Isla. Guidolin opted to start duo Diego Fabbrini and Antonio Floro-Flores in attack.

PAOK centre-back pairing Stelios Mazelas and Bruno Cirillo were declared fit to start. The Bianconeri’s backline needed to keep a close eye on danger man Dimitris Salpigidis, the thirty year-old striker having scored three goals in his five Europa League appearances this season.

Udinese started on the front foot, and were rewarded from a set-piece in the early stages. Giovanni Pasquali’s cross was guided in by Danilo, the Brazillian’s controlled header giving his side the vital away goal. This was Danilo’s first goal for Udinese since his summer move from Palmeiras, and what a valuable one it was.

The Greek side responded to this early setback by winning a string of corners to put pressure on the visitors. They came close to equalising when Pablo Garcia’s cross was met by the head of Cirillo, but his header was blocked and Udinese could breathe a sigh of relief.

It was a Cirillo foul that led to Udinese’s second just minutes later. The former Italian Under-21 International brought down Fabbrini to become the first player in the referee’s book. The following free-kick was one to savour, Floro-Flores’ beautifully struck piledriver now meant PAOK needed to score three goals to win the tie.

Cirillo almost made amends immediately, however his header from an awkward angle could only find Samir Handanovic’s left hand post. If PAOK were to find any way back into the match it was through set-pieces, and Mazelas came close again moments later, his header just too high this time.

Udinese were now playing with confidence and were in complete control of the game. PAOK boss László Bölöni replaced midfielder Konstantinos Stafylidis with striker Georgios Georgiadis in an attempt to salvage something from the game.

The substitution had little effect. PAOK had a couple of half chances through Stefanos Athanasiadis and Apostolos Giannou, but struggled to penetrate a well-orangised Udinese defence.

When Tom Hagen, the young Norwegian referee brought an end to first-half proceedings, Udinese knew that barring something miraculous from their Greek counterparts, they would be playing Anderlecht or AZ Alkmaar in the next round.

Any flickering hopes of an unlikely comeback were quickly extinguished as Miroslaw Sznaucner brought down Floro-Flores in the penalty area five minutes after the restart. The Polish defender clearly had a handful of the Italian striker’s shirt, despite the vociferous protests of his teammates.

Mazelas and Udinese midfielder Mehdi Benatia were booked for dissent following the award of the penalty, but it was Maurizio Domizzi who kept his cool, smashing his penalty into the top corner despite having laser pens shone in his face.

The remaining forty minutes were played largely without any major incident. Fabbrini’s powerful effort was parried, but Floro-Flores was denied a second goal by the side-netting.

PAOK substitute Georgiadis’ effort came close, but Handanovic was never really tested from the side currently sitting third place in the Greek Superleague.

This was Udinese’s biggest away win any European competition, and their first since 2008, where they reached the quarter-final. Guidolin’s side have every chance of matching their exploits of 2008, although they will probably have to overcome English giants Manchester United and Manchester City if they are to win the competition.

The result is perfect preparation for Sunday’s trip to Bologna, where Udinese will be looking to regain their domestic form following a poor run of results.

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