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Nerves jangling for final four

Fingers are being crossed around Europe for the four sides in UEFA Cup semi-final action today.

Sporting position
Leading 2-1 from the first leg, Sporting have more reason than most to feel confident of progressing to the showpiece at their own Estádio José Alvalade. And the Portuguese Football Federation (FPF) has been doing its best to put José Peseiro's men in the mood for victory.

Replica trophy
The FPF has commissioned sculptor Fernando Serzedas to design a 2m tall replica of the UEFA Cup which was put on display in the arrivals hall of Lisbon airport last night. Regardless of whether they get the result they need in Alkmaar, it will greet Sporting's players as they return home tomorrow.

'Best effort'
"We would like Sporting to win the UEFA Cup," Serzedas told sports paper A Bola. "We hope this replica can serve to boost the Sporting players. We just gave it our best effort and did the best we could." Fans will hope the players enter the game with a similar attitude.

Press praise
Co Adriaanse's Alkmaar are no shirkers, though, and as they await Sporting at their Alkmaarderhout stadium, the Dutch press have been singing their praises. De Volkskrant was forthright, saying Alkmaar "do not have to lift the cup in Lisbon on 18 May to feel like winners".

Heroic attempt
Alkmaar's success in keeping pace with the big three in the Netherlands and surging into Europe has turned several of their players into internationals. In the context of a club whose resources remain modest to the point of threadbare by European standards, that is a huge achievement.

Disheartening environment
Algemeen Dagblad, for one, hoped the down-at-heel surroundings of the Alkmaarderhout would prove disheartening for Sporting. "Co Adriaanse's players are used to a poor environment - Sporting's are not," wrote the newspaper.

Parma position
Parma know all about reduced circumstances. Short of money and struggling in Serie A, coach Pietro Carmignani has often fielded reserve players in UEFA Cup matches as he aims to preserve his more seasoned stars for the pressing issue of top-flight survival.

Carmignani dilemma
However, with the scores level at 0-0 in the tie against CSKA, Gazzetta di Parma saw a dilemma looming for Carmignani as his side head for Moscow: "Should he continue with his rotation system or try to field more important players in the return leg in Moscow?"

CSKA support
The answer to that question is one the coach has been keeping close to his chest, but whether Italian international Alberto Gilardino - Parma's leading striker but a rare sight in their UEFA Cup campaign - starts the game is a major issue for Russia's sporting media too, as they will CSKA to a first European final.

Great expectations
Sport-Express has been keen to cool the atmosphere of expectation around Valeriy Gazzaev's team, saying: "Let's not remind ourselves again that CSKA are defending the honour of Russia, that their success is important for our football and will yield much-needed ranking points. Why state the obvious?"

Thin veneer
However, the veneer of calm is paper thin. "We are trying not to do this, but it doesn't come easy," added the paper. "It's crystal clear that the fans are anxiously anticipating this evening, dreaming of a victory that will open the road to Lisbon for the Army Men."