Ten-man SBV Vitesse overhauled a two-goal deficit against German Bundesliga side SV Werder Bremen at the Weserstadion to reach the third round of the UEFA Cup. After trailing 2-0, the Dutch team struck three times in the second half in a 3-3 draw to progress 5-4 on aggregate.
Neither team went into the game on the back of scintillating domestic form, both having lost at the weekend - and on the evidence of this pulsating encounter it appeared the sides had saved their best for Europe.
The first half was all Bremen and the home team went close in the eighth minute when Johan Micoud found space on the edge of the box to force goalkeeper Dragoslav Jevric into evasive action. Markus Daun also came within centimetres of the opener when he struck a lofted shot just wide of the far post on 21 minutes, then Ailton collected a lofted ball over the top on his thigh only to see his first-time volley drift wide.
Third time lucky
However, Frank Baumann ensured the pressure paid dividends by tucking in neatly from close range after a free-kick. Vitesse could have pulled one back just before the break but Mathew Amoah, who scored in the first leg, saw his thunderous free-kick from outside the box tipped on to the bar by an acrobatic lunge from goalkeeper Pascal Borel.
Two frantic minutes
Two goals in as many minutes at the start of the second half only served to heighten the drama. Yugoslavian defender Mladen Krstajic doubled the lead when he unleashed a swerving shot from distance that dipped at the last moment to go in off the underside side of the crossbar. The visitors, though, hit back immediately, Evgen Levchenko drilling in a perfectly placed penalty.
With the score at 2-1, the aggregate scores were all square. Vitesse's loss of Aleksandar Rankovic to a red card failed to tilt the balance Bremen's way and instead Gert Claessens, relentless throughout, made it 2-2 on the night when he raced clear down the right to fire in at the near post.
The German side now needed two more goals to go through and although Angelos Charisteas restored Bremen's lead on the night, the game was definitively up when substitute Emile Mbamba dispossessed Kristajic and rounded the keeper for a dramatic leveller.
Vitesse coach Mike Snoel said: "For our club, it is a fantastic evening to get in the next round, particularly against a team with players like Micoud and Ailton. I am very proud of my team, everyone did their best and it is a great day for Arnhem. Now I would like to get another big club in the next round, maybe Celtic [FC]."