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Fiorentina with advantage in Champions League

It is advantage Fiorentina at the midway point of their UEFA Champions League play-off tie against Sporting Lisbon after they gained a 2-2 first-leg draw in Lisbon.

Juan Manuel Vargas sent Fiorentina on their way by opening the scoring and Alberto Gilardino’s goal eleven minutes from time gave Cesare Prandelli’s team a great finish after the hosts had turned the match around with two goals in eight second-half minutes. Simon Vukčević and Miguel Veloso put the Portuguese side 2-1 ahead, but the former was sent off just after bringing Sporting level and will miss next week’s decider in Florence.

Sporting started at a frenetic pace and after forcing a corner inside the opening 60 seconds, João Moutinho drove in a shot which Sébastien Frey did well to push clear. Two minutes later, Liedson sent an effort wide following a quick counterattack, but while the Portuguese outfit were the first to create chances, Fiorentina, playing their first competitive fixture of the season, soon came up to speed.

The hosts received a warning when Adrian Mutu’s shot nearly deceived goalkeeper Rui Patrício after taking a deflection off Pedro Silva. They did not take heed and with just six minutes played, Gilardino picked out Vargas on the left flank and the unmarked Peruvian international beat Silva before firing in a shot across Patrício and into the far corner. Sporting responded, but Moutinho’s 19th-minute shot was once again brilliantly saved by Frey.

Sporting were finding it hard to break down the Viola’s defence with both Hélder Postiga and Veloso sending in tame long-range efforts. Postiga then nearly pulled his side level on the stroke of half-time but his acrobatic shot whistled the wrong side of the near post. Fiorentina threatened to double their lead just after the break when Gilardino crossed for summer signing Marco Marchionni but he failed to keep his header down.

However, it was Sporting who scored next, Vukčević equalising in the 58th minute after finding the bottom corner with a shot on the rebound. Unfortunately for the Montenegrin international, he removed his shirt while celebrating, picking up a second caution. Despite being a man down, Paulo Bento’s side now had their best spell and Veloso put them in front with a superb shot from distance that flew into Frey’s top corner. Chances came and went for both sides – Riccardo Montolivo went close for the visitors before Liedson missed at the other end, but Gilardino then flicked a fine volleyed finish past Anderson Polga to level matters and leave Fiorentina as favourites to progress to the group stage.

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