Sat, Feb 24, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Italy's Cup flirtation ends in anticlimax

AFP , PARIS

AZ Alkmaar player Gretar Steinsson celebrates during their UEFA Cup match against Fenerbahce on Thursday in Alkmaar, the Netherlands. The final score was 2-2.

PHOTO: AFP

Italy's flirtation with this season's UEFA Cup came to a premature end on Thursday when defeats for Parma and Livorno left the country without a representative in the last 16.

Parma, champions in 1995 and 1999 and the last Italian side to win the trophy, lost 1-0 at home to Portuguese side Sporting Braga to exit 2-0 over two legs.

Livorno, playing in their first UEFA Cup, lost 2-0 at Espanyol to go out 4-1.

The defeats came on the heels of a decidedly mediocre week for Italian sides in the Champions League where AC Milan, Inter and Roma all drew their last 16 first leg ties.

Spain will boast four sides in the last 16, including defending champions Sevilla who put out Steaua Bucharest, while Tottenham and Newcastle will fly English colors.

Tottenham had already made sure of their place in the next round after scheduled opponents Feyenoord were expelled.

Newcastle went through with a 1-0 win over Zulte-Waregem of Belgium for a 4-1 aggregate, but Premiership rivals Blackburn were knocked out after a 0-0 draw at home to Bayer Leverkusen sent them spinning 3-2 on aggregate.

Parma had the better chances in their tie but Braga substitute Diego scored the only goal with a sweeping volley a minute from time.

The defeat left Parma coach Claudio Ranieri with three 1-0 losses on the trot since he took over nine days ago.

"We gave it our best shot and I am proud of the players," said Ranieri, whose side are second from bottom of Serie A.

"Psychologically we are in a difficult moment, but I feel there is enough spirit to overcome this and save ourselves from relegation," he said.

Braga will face Tottenham for a place in the quarter-finals.

Blackburn goalkeeper Brad Friedel claimed his team were outdone by the European experience of Bayer Leverkusen after the German outfit progressed with a 0-0 draw at Ewood Park.

"Leverkusen did exactly what we expected of them because they have a lot of experience in their team and time-wasting is part and parcel of European football," Fridel said. "But they probably deserved to go through on the basis of their performance in the first-leg in Germany."

Newcastle will face AZ Alkmaar of the Netherlands after a second half goal from Nigerian striker Obafemi Martins gave them a narrow win at St James's Park.

Goalkeeper Steve Harper said Alkmaar, who put out Fenerbahce, will be a tougher proposition than Zulte-Waregem.

"It will be very tough. They have performed well in the last couple of years -- but we are confident we can progress."

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