Werder Bremen took a big step towards the UEFA Cup semi-finals after two superb goals by Brazilian playmaker Diego steered them to a 3-1 victory against Udinese Calcio.
Diego made the breakthrough in the 34th minute with a precise low drive from the edge of the area. The Bundesliga side went on to strike twice in as many minutes after the break through Diego and Hugo Almeida before Fabio Quagliarella pulled one back to give Italy's only remaining UEFA club competition contenders hope for next Thursday's second leg.
A tight, tactical start included plenty of industry from both sides but no real scoring chances. Bremen playmaker Diego made the biggest impact, either feeding the ball wide or probing the Udinese defence with an inviting pass down the middle. Alexis Sánchez threatened down the Udinese left, but he struggled to link up with strike partner Fabio Quagliarella, while his powerful shot from distance in the 25th minute was charged down.
The first real excitement arrived on the half-hour when Naldo's shot from 30 metres dipped on to the Udinese crossbar before bouncing back into play. Samir Handanovič and Claudio Pizarro both jumped for the rebound and although the Peruvian striker then managed to prod the ball into the empty net, he was judged to have fouled the Udinese goalkeeper first.
In the event, Bremen waited only four more minutes for a goal. Diego picked up the ball from Mesut Özil and reached the edge of the area before sending a low diagonal drive into the left-hand corner. The Brazilian also forced a neat save from Handanovič just before the break with a dipping volley from 20 metres out.
Udinese could have been level within two minutes of the restart when Kwadwo Asamoah put Quagliarella clean through but, with only stranded goalkeeper Tim Wiese to beat, his angled lob drifted just wide. Quagliarella had no better luck from an identical position on the hour mark as Wiese parried his chip.
Bremen soon struck twice in quick succession. Collecting the ball from Sánchez, Diego produced a superb curling shot from the left into the far right corner in the 67th minute. Then Sebastian Boenisch's long ball forward found Hugo Almeida in space and the Portuguese striker ran through to drill a low shot past Handanovič.
The visitors did not give up hope of an away goal, Quagliarella close again with yet another lob on 82 minutes. He made amends five minutes later, though, when he swivelled to strike from close range, meaning the scoreline here matched that of Hamburger SV's 3-1 victory against Manchester City FC elsewhere in northern Germany, with the winners of these two quarter-finals to meet.