With Malmö FF having sensationally won 1-0 at Besiktas JK, Swedish eyes were firmly fixed on the southern club last night as they welcomed the Turkish giants for the return leg of their first-round tie.
Expectation soon turned to disappointment, as Souleymane Youla struck a hat-trick in a 4-1 Besiktas victory, leaving Swedes to ponder the end of Allsvenskan involvement in UEFA club competition for another season. Two-and-a-half hours later came salvation in an unlikely form, however, as the final whistle blew in the fortieth and final first-round tie, and the Estádio José Alvalade fell silent as Sporting Clube de Portugal supporters contemplated their shock loss to Halmstads BK.
Ebbed and flowed
It had seemed the script was already written: Sporting, last season's runners-up and flying high in the Liga, had triumphed 2-1 in Sweden to seemingly leave the Allsvenskan strugglers with little more than pride to play for in the Portuguese capital. Yet it was a match which ebbed and flowed: Gunnar Heidar Thorvaldsson put Halmstad ahead, Wender equalised; Tomas Zvirgzdauskas made it 2-1 in added time to force an extra 30 minutes, then scored an own goal to leave Sporting on the brink.
The visitors were not finished, though, and were able to celebrate one of their all-time great victories as Patrik Ingelsten headed the decisive goal. Aftonbladet's Stefan Alfelt wrote of yesterday's events: "A fiasco of an evening for Sweden had run into night-time when the figures suddenly lit up the sky. Patrik Ingelsten restored some of Swedish club football's pride just five minutes before a final goodnight. Peerless. Unexpected. Unbelievable."
Halmstad had played down their chances prior to departing for Lisbon - "We would beat Sporting one time in ten," said coach Jan Andersson - but revelled in glory afterwards. "What a fantastic feeling," said Zwirzdauskas. "Everyone thought the game was over." Ingelsten added: "This is the biggest thing that has happend to me as a football player - it's fantastic."
A more sombre note was struck in Portugal this morning, however. "No excuses" read the main headline in leading sports paper A Bola. Two words which said it all.
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