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Di Natale denies Anzhi Euro triumph

Italy,Sports, Fri, 21 Sep 2012 IANS

Udine (Italy), Sep 21 (IANS/RIA Novosti) Substitute Antonio Di Natale rescued a dramatic 1-1 draw for Udinese in the first minute of stoppage time to deny Anzhi Makhachkala a debut victory in the Europa League group stage.

The 34-year-old scored when Anzhi goalkeeper Evgeny Pomazan palmed away a weak shot straight into the veteran's path Thursday.

It extends Udinese's streak of unbeaten home matches in European competition to seven.

Lacina Traore had put Guus Hiddink's side ahead just before half time, bursting down the left to send a fierce shot across goal that Udinese stopper Daniele Padelli turned into his own net.

The Ivorian was credited with the goal nonetheless.

The encounter was Anzhi's first serious test of their capability to deliver silverware fast as decreed by billionaire owner Suleiman Kerimov, and it was unclear if they passed.

In a group with Liverpool and Young Boys, Hiddink had played down their tag as favourites to win it, and evidence emerged in Udinese that he wasn't simply being modest.

Anzhi, riding high in the Russian Premier League, failed to string together the kind of fluid football that saw them roll over their opponents in the preliminary rounds.

But fourth-from-bottom Udinese, for their part, couldn't seem to improve upon their wretched Serie A form to take advantage of their sub-par opponents.

Mehdi Benatia missed a clear chance for the hosts in the 17th minute, heading Marco Faraoni's free kick wide from six yards out.

Andrea Lazzari hit a dipping half-volley just after the half-hour mark, and Faraoni went wide ten minutes later.

Traore's goal left Udinese deflated in a half they had controlled, and they came out in the second half with greater resolve.

Swedish front man Ranegie, a deadline-day signing from FC Malmo, went close twice.

First the 28-year-old volleyed just wide after a well-directed knock-down from Pablo Armero, then he turned Joao Carlos in the box but fired straight at Pomazan.

The chances kept coming with Faraoni the next to miss, sending an inch-perfect cross from the left sailing over the crossbar.

The wasteful finishing prompted Udinese coach Francesco Guidolin to bring on Di Natale in place of defensive midfielder Emmanuel Badu with half an hour remaining.

But Anzhi continued to frustrate their hosts in midfield and broke up attacks in their infancy, detracting from the match as a spectacle but defending a lead away from home effectively.

Yuri Zhirkov linked up well with winger Oleg Shatov down the left for the former to have a shot on goal that was blocked by a sliding defender.

Samuel Eto'o, who scored five goals in the preliminary rounds, nearly put Anzhi two up, sending a curling shot toward the top corner that Padelli got a fingertip to.

Udinese substitute Dusan Basta nearly walked the ball into the net in the 86th minute, but Pomazan scrambled across his goal to stop it before it cross the line, prompting fans to start leaving the stadium.

But the Italians had the final say at the death, taking a deserved point.

Anzhi stormed through the competition's three qualifying rounds, overpowered Hungary's Honved 5-0 and Vitesse Arnhem 4-0. Anzhi beat AZ Almkaar 6-0 on aggregate in the play-off round.

Anzhi are currently third in the Russian Premier League with 17 points after eight games, while Udinese are just one place above the relegation zone with one point in three Serie A games.

--IANS/RIA Novosti

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