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By Michael Harrold at the Estádio José Alvalade
Udinese Calcio made a winning start to their first UEFA Champions League campaign thanks to Vincenzo Iaquinta's 29th-minute penalty against Sporting Clube de Portugal.
The striker fired past Ricardo in the Sporting goal after Paulo Barreto had been brought down and that goal proved enough to decide this third qualifying round first leg. The Italian team will look to finish the job when they welcome the Portuguese outfit to the Friuli stadium on 23 August.
Udinese bore little resemblance to the side that had finished fourth in Serie A last season as Serse Cosmi introduced four new signings for his first game in charge. One of them, Barreto, partnered Iaquinta in attack in the absence of the injured David Di Michele.
Cosmi had spoken with Giovanni Trapattoni prior to the match and the former SL Benfica coach had clearly advised him well. In only the second minute, Barreto broke free of his marker to lay the ball off for Vincent Candela who powered a shot off the crossbar. Having survived that scare Sporting assumed control.
Sporting coach José Peseiro was without the influential Fabio Rochemback so Sá Pinto was asked to provide the supply line to Liedson and his new strike partner Deivid. But it was the pacy Roudolphe Douala who provided the inspiration for much of their attacking play. In the first 15 minutes, he worked openings for both forwards but neither was able to capitalise.
Against the run of play, however, Udinese went ahead. Barreto broke into the area and was sent crashing to the ground by Miguel Garcia. While the young striker received treatment, Iaquinta fired the visitors in front from the penalty spot.
Sporting hit back. Morgan De Sanctis tipped Beto's free-kick around the post and the 2004/05 UEFA Cup finalists regained their momentum. Cosmi responded by taking off the limping Barreto, bringing on former Sporting favourite José Vidigal to shore up the midfield. Almost immediately, Udinese came close to doubling their lead. Iaquinta got clear of Beto but the defender recovered well to put the 25-year-old off his shot.
Sporting held possession after the restart but Udinese kept their shape. Full credit to Cosmi whose new-look lineup made light of the summer departures of Marek Jankulovski, Per Krøldrup and David Pizarro. In their places, young Nigerian Christian Obodo held his ground well in central midfield while Cesare Natali was a dominant force at the back.
With 15 minutes to play, Sporting finally forced an opening. Substitute Rogerio cut inside his marker on the right and drilled a shot off the post. Liedson was on hand to turn in the rebound, but the flag had gone up for offside. With that went Sporting's chances.
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