27 April, 2006

Everyone's a 'Boro fan

For tonight, at least, if you care about English football you should be a Middlesbrough fan.

Yes, there is another English team in a European final. Middlesbrough, somehow, scratched their way into the UEFA Cup final in Eindhoven in a couple of weeks time.

'Boro trailed 1-0 from the first game in the two-legged semi-final. Add to that, they lost a heartbreaker of a semi-final on Sunday in the English FA Cup. And, breaking news over the past 24 hours, their manager Steve McLaren appears to have been passed over for the English national team coach position, beaten by a mad Brazilian.

To get to this stage Middlesbrough had already pulled off one remarkable comeback against Basel, winning 4-1 to wipe out a 2-0 defeat in the first leg. Tonight, they made it even more dramatic spotting Steaua Bucharest a 2-0 lead after just 23 minutes.

That, it seems, was all part of the masterplan. Massimo "pasta the ball" Maccarone got one back in the 32nd minute. But, at half-time it still looked a daunting task. Three clear goals needed against an uncompromising opponent with the ability to break from defence and score themselves.

Yet, for virtually the entire 45 minutes of the second half 'Boro poured forward. First, Mark Viduka headed home as Steaua's Portuguese goalie came from a cross he had no right to claim. From Stuart Downing's saved cross shot, Chris Riggott levelled the aggregate score (Middlesbrough trailing on away goals).

Then, with just a minute left, the dangerous Downing received the ball on the left as Steaua failed to clear properly. The England prospect beat a man before sending a swerving cross into the penalty area. On my TV time froze for a second (dodgy digital), before the oft-crticised Maccarone outmuscled the defender to head the winner. A couple of close shaves survived in the 4 minutes of added time, 'Boro had won in unbelievable fashion.

Phil who?


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