SV Werder Bremen are through to the UEFA Champions League group stage for the sixth time in seven seasons after edging past UC Sampdoria in a pulsating extra-time win in Genoa.
Two first-half goals by Giampaolo Pazzini and Antonio Cassano's 85th-minute strike appeared to have done enough to earn Domenico Di Carlo's men a 4-3 aggregate victory. However, substitute Markus Rosenberg gave the visitors a lifeline with a dramatic added-time strike, paving the way for Claudio Pizarro to settle matters from distance ten minutes into extra-time.
Spurred on by deafening home support, Cassano headed Franco Semioli's cross over the bar on six minutes. He soon made amends for his miss, though, picking out Pazzini at the far post with a chipped cross that the former ACF Fiorentina striker nodded in at Tim Wiese's near post. Pazzini quickly doubled his tally, lashing Marius Stankevičius's right-wing free-kick into the roof of the net.
Unbowed, Bremen gathered themselves, earning a succession of free-kicks and corners which were repelled by the Blucerchiati. Tim Borowski's header was well held by Gianluca Curci, and Sandro Wagner shot wide, but the visitors had to be grateful to Clemens Fritz for clearing Pazzini's 39th-minute header off the goal line, and to Wiese for parrying Cassano's low drive.
Bremen came at their hosts with greater purpose after the break, Pizarro and Wagner seeing headers saved and blocked respectively. Although Wiese had to be alive to Cassano's instinctive shot, the Blucerchiati found themselves defending ever deeper as Thomas Schaaf's men sought the crucial away goal.
Sampdoria, epitomised by the stoic Daniele Gastaldello, made a series of crucial interventions at the back and looked set to go through in normal time after surviving errant efforts by Per Mertesacker, Philipp Bargfrede and Marko Arnautović. Their chances increased with a breakaway third made by Semioli and finished with an impudent flick of the heel by Cassano. In added time, however, Rosenberg found enough time and space to make it 4-4 on aggregate with a low strike from 20 metres.
Buoyed by newfound hope, Bremen poured forward in the extra half-hour, Marko Marin setting the tone with a rasping shot from the edge of the area which came back off the bar. Indeed, it was the lively 21-year-old who teed up Pizarro to let fly from distance and silence the natives for the first time. Samp now required two goals, but the 20 remaining minutes were only long enough for them to see Marin hit the woodwork once more.