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Porto shatter Grasshoppers' dream

Brazilian forward Clayton sends Porto on the way to victory

(Keystone)

Grasshoppers Zurich have failed in their bid to qualify for Europe's biggest club competition, the Champions League. The Swiss champions were knocked out in the final qualifying round on Wednesday after losing 3-2 at home to Portuguese giants Porto.

"This was a big dream for us, so of course we're very disappointed," Grasshoppers coach Hans-Peter Zaugg told swissinfo after Wednesday's defeat. "But we knew Porto would make things difficult for us after we had done so well in the first leg."

Zurich certainly seemed to be in a strong position going into the second leg, having held Porto to a 2-2 draw in Portugal two weeks ago.

But the former European champions came out fighting in a sold-out Hardturm stadium, made even noisier than usual by the presence of several hundred members of Zurich's sizeable Portuguese community.

Fumbled

The Portuguese fans didn't have to wait long to celebrate their team's first goal. With just 14 minutes played, young Grasshoppers keeper Peter Jehle fumbled a shot from Brazilian midfielder Deco straight into the path of Brazilian striker Clayton.

The 26-year-old forward promptly crashed the ball into the net to fire Porto back into the overall lead.

The ensuing period saw frantic football on both sides, as befitted a contest estimated to be worth some SFr 10 million to the winner. But despite some dazzling play from Grasshoppers' Uruguayan midfielder Richard Nunez, Zurich were rarely able to threaten the Porto goal.

Two minutes before half-time, the Portuguese side extended their lead, Clayton turning provider this time with a 25 metre free-kick which Capucho headed low past Jehle.

Mini fightback

After having Senegalese midfielder Papa Bouba Diop sent off for a second yellow card in the second half, Grasshoppers managed to stage a mini fightback when Mladen Petric succeeded in completely wrong-footing Porto keeper Sergey Ovchinnikov.

But Porto restored their two goal advantage just two minutes later thanks to a powerful short-range strike from Deco. There was still time for a late goal from Grasshoppers' veteran striker Stéphane Chapuisat, but not enough time for the Zurich club to salvage the tie.

UEFA Cup place

The referee's final whistle ended a thrilling match in the Hardturm stadium, but it was Porto who were left to celebrate that precious Champions League spot. After seeming so close just two weeks ago, Grasshoppers will now have to content themselves with the compensation of a place in the UEFA Cup.

"None of us are thinking about that right now," Zaugg told swissinfo, "but maybe in three or four days we will be able to start looking forward to the UEFA Cup. It will be good to still be competing internationally and there will be plenty more chances to pit ourselves against some good teams."

by Mark Ledsom, Zurich


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