Werder Bremen put their UEFA Champions League Group C campaign back on track with a dramatic 4-3 win against Italian outfit Udinese Calcio. Thomas Schaaf's side got their first victory of this season's competition to pull level on points with their opponents.
Miroslav Klose and Frank Baumann rewarded Bremen for an impressive first-half display before Johan Micoud added a third shortly after the break. However, two strikes from substitute Antonio Di Natale and a Christian Schulz own goal wiped out that deficit in six frantic second-half minutes, only for Micoud to strike again.
In his 40th UEFA competition match as a coach, Schaaf was dealt a blow when Croatian international Ivan Klasnić pulled out just before kick-off. The striker was sent to hospital with an inflamed appendix and was replaced by Nelson Valdez. Udinese coach Serse Cosmi, meanwhile, opted to field David Di Michele instead of Di Natale in a defensive-minded 3-5-2 formation.
Inspired by Micoud, the hosts put pressure on their Serie A opponents from the start. Valdez had the first chance on six minutes, but his header from seven metres following a fine Schulz cross, and Tim Borowski's long-range effort moments later, both went wide. The German team continued to press, and when Patrick Owomoyela's 40-metre pass found Valdez on 15 minutes, the South American delivered a perfect cross from the right to Klose who had no trouble opening the scoring with his head from close range.
Schaaf's players doubled the lead nine minutes later. Again Klose stepped up the pace to beat Valerio Bertotto and Damiano Zenoni before passing to Valdez, whose deflected centre found Baumann in the right place at the right time to find the net from three metres. While Udinese's occasional quick counterattacks failed to trouble goalkeeper Andreas Reinke, Micoud almost made Bremen's outstanding first half even better, his volley bouncing back off the woodwork.
So too did Vincenzo Iaquinta's close-range attempt shortly afterwards, Udinese's best opportunity of the half. Bremen's fine form continued into the second period; after 52 minutes, the excellent Owomoyela again brought Valdez into action on the right, and this time the young forward crossed to Micoud who jumped highest to seemingly clinch the points with a perfect header.
Di Natale effective
Amazingly, however, the visitors were level within six minutes thanks to substitute Di Natale. In the 54th minute he took a low shot from 17 metres which caught out Reinke on the wet pitch, the ball creeping through the goalkeeper's hands. Two minutes later, the skilful attacker added a second, popping up unmarked in front of Reinke to send the ball into the right corner of the net. The comeback was then completed in the 60th minute – this time the striker turned provider as he crossed from the left to cause confusion, with Schulz turning the ball into his own net as he attempted to clear.
The drama was not over, though, and it was Micoud again, in the 67th minute, who put Bremen back on track and brought the Udinese revival to an abrupt end. A precise Torsten Frings free-kick found the former French international in space at the near post, and Micoud made no mistake with a volley from four metres. The visitors' hopes were finally ended when Giampiero Pinzi was sent off after two bookings as Bremen held on for their first three points in the section.