FC Internazionale, who held a 2-0 lead in the Milan derby last weekend before crashing to defeat, were again unable to keep an advantage in the first leg of their UEFA Cup third-round tie, allowing FC Sochaux Montbéliard to come back in the Stade Bonal to earn a meritorious draw.
The French team, comfortable conquerors of BV Borussia Dortmund in the previous round, had most of the play in an enthralling first-leg struggle and did well to recover from two heavy blows to their confidence.
They were first asked to come back after the shock of falling behind to an eighth-minute Christian Vieri header. Then within two minutes of forcing a second-half equaliser through the attacking skills of Pierre-Alain Frau, they went down again as Alvaro Recoba took advantage of some lax defending.
Frau to the rescue
It would have been an injustice had the French team been forced to travel to Milan for next week's return with a deficit but the enterprising Frau ensured they would start the second leg on equal terms with another leveller.
Sochaux manager Guy Lacombe was pleased with the outcome, saying: "It was a good game and exciting, with four goals.
We put together some good movements but it was difficult going behind so early."
The pattern of the game was set from the start with Sochaux on the attack and pressing Inter back. The Italians relied on counter-punching but there was not much of that as the home team proved adept at keeping the ball with Benoît Pedretti skilfully directing operations in midfield and Wilson Oruma always ready to drive at the opposition.
Nevertheless Milan were super-efficient at taking the few chances that came their way. Vieri's jump to meet Andy van der Meyde's corner put him above three defenders and his glancing header found the net.
Pedretti to the fore
Sochaux had plenty of possession but created few clear-cut chances. Those that came tended to be from outside the area, Pedretti and Oruma both dragging shots wide of the post and coming no closer than Frau's early header, which Francesco Toldo saved.
Vieri should have put Inter two ahead but was well off target. Then almost immediately, from Pedretti's lofted ball and Sylvain Monsoreau's header, Frau began his rescue mission. His control was instant and that enabled him to execute a half-turn away from Daniele Adani, creating room for the finish.
Toldo's helping hand
Sochaux were still celebrating as Recoba took a pass from Cristiano Zanetti, the Uruguayan holding off Omar Daf before lifting the ball over Gérard Gnanhouan. The home side must have feared for their chances of coming back a second time but they were granted a helping hand from Toldo, who failed to keep hold of a shot from substitute Fabien Boudarène. Frau, following-up, put his shot against a post and then scrambled the ball home at the second attempt as a defender desperately tried to clear.
Inter coach Alberto Zaccheroni said it was a difficult encounter so soon after the disappointment of the Milan derby. "After the first half I was hoping we could win but I must say that Sochaux are a good side.
I was pleased with the character."