Fiorentina, Olympiacos edge closer
Two away goals gave Fiorentina the upper hand going into the second leg of their UEFA Champions League play-off against Sporting Lisbon. Olympiacos, Stuttgart and FC Copenhagen also moved closer to a berth in the prestigious group stage with wins.
Sporting dominated for large periods and scored in quick succession through Simon Vukcevic - who was then sent off - and Miguel Veloso at the start of the second half. But goals at the start and end of the match from Juan Manuel Vargas and Alberto Gilardino tipped the scales in the Italians' favour.
Joao Moutinho nearly gave the hosts the lead in the opening minute with a brilliantly-executed volley but Sebastien Frey was up to the challenge and tipped the ball over the bar. But after Sporting had dominated the opening stages, the visitors took the lead in the sixth minute when Vargas' shot squirmed into the bottom corner despite Rui Patricio getting both hands to the ball.
Fiorentina defender Alessandro Gamberini was fortunate to be shown only a yellow card in the 11th minute when he pushed Liedson in the face. Frey then produced another fine save from Moutinho to preserve the Italians' lead, getting down low to his left to push the playmaker's shot round the post.
Marco Marchionni was off target with a header immediately after half-time but Sporting finally buried a chance in the 58th minute. Vukcevic found space on the left of the box and tucked the ball confidently inside the far post. However, his joy was shortlived as, after celebrating the goal by taking his shirt off, he was promptly shown a second yellow card and dismissed.
The hosts brushed off their numerical disadvantage and went ahead in spectacular fashion with their second goal in eight minutes. Veloso picked up the ball 25 yards out and fired in a swerving effort that gave Frey no chance.
Fiorentina had been largely anonymous in the second half but they nearly levelled in the 75th minute when a fine run from Riccardo Montolivo ended with Patricio smothering his shot. Liedson could then have extended the hosts' lead when a free-kick rebounded to him but he lost his footing and fired wide.
That miss looked costly in the 79th minute as Gilardino produced a moment of real quality, trapping a through ball on his chest and curling his shot past Patricio with the outside of his right foot. Fiorentina nearly won it in the closing moments but this time Patricio was up to the challenge from Stevan Jovetic's effort while Matias Fernandez's mazy run and shot brought a good save from Frey.
Olympiacos also have one foot in the UEFA Champions League group stages after beating FC Sheriff 2-0 in Moldova. The visitors had several chances to take the lead and should have done so a minute before the break when Avraam Papadopoulos hit the post.
Brazilian midfielder Dudu fired Olympiacos in front immediately after the interval and substitute Konstantinos Mitroglou, who had only been on the pitch a matter of seconds, doubled their lead nine minutes before full time. Olympiacos will now be favourites to progress next week in Greece.
FC Copenhagen take a slender advantage into the second leg of their play-off after they secured a 1-0 home win over APOEL. Zdenek Pospech scored the only goal of the game in the 54th minute. Altin Haxhi was sent off in stoppage time to complete a miserable night for the Cypriot visitors.
German giants Stuttgart also look set to advance after securing a 2-0 advantage in Romania against Timisoara. Timo Gebhart and Aleksandr Hleb scored twice in the space of a three-minute spell in the first half to seal the win.