SV Werder Bremen gained the upper hand in their UEFA Champions League play-off against ten-man UC Sampdoria but the celebrations at the Weser-Stadion were tempered by a last-minute goal from Giampaolo Pazzini.
Thomas Schaaf's home side seized control through second-half goals from Clemens Fritz, Torsten Frings – a penalty after Sampdoria defender Stefano Lucchini had earned a red card – and Claudio Pizarro. But Pazzini's header from substitute Marius Stankevičius's cross restored hope for the visitors ahead of next Tuesday's return in Genoa.
For Sampdoria's commendably noisy fans this was their first taste of Europe's elite competition since the 1992 final. A good number had seen the start of the Bremen-Shanghai classic car rally in the city's Marktplatz earlier in the day but it was a different odyssey that had drawn them to northern Germany. They nearly saw their team steal in front in the fourth minute when the unmarked Pazzini nodded Angelo Palombo's free-kick wide. Pazzini did find the net ten minutes later but had stepped offside before stabbing home Franco Semioli's cross.
This was Bremen's first match without the newly departed Mesut Özil and Schaaf charged Aaron Hunt with occupying the space between the midfield and forward lines. Hunt produced several incisive combinations with the Bremen strikers in the first half, getting some joy down the left where Massimo Volta was making his Sampdoria debut at right-back.
After getting gradually closer to a goal in the first half – notably when Hugo Almeida grazed the crossbar with a header and Philipp Bargfrede drew a fingertip stop from Gianluca Curci – Bremen broke through six minutes after the restart. Sampdoria midfielder Fernando Tissone will rue the weak clearance that sent the ball straight to Fritz who strode forward and, from outside the box, sent a fierce shot past Curci and into the far corner.
Sampdoria, in their first match under coach Domenico Di Carlo, were on the back foot though Pazzini went close when he beat Tim Wiese with a low shot that came back off the far post. Instead in the 67th minute Bremen got a second. Lucchini was penalised for pulling Sebastian Prödl's shirt – earning a second yellow card in the process – and Frings' spot kick beat Curci to his right, the goalkeeper getting a hand to the ball to no avail. Moments later Pizarro made it three, playing a neat one-two with Almeida and wrong-footing Curci as his shot deflected off Stankevičius.