Zigic has Red Star dreaming of European revival

Updated: December 2, 2005, 6:10 AM ET
Reuters

By Zoran Milosavljevic

BELGRADE, Dec 2 - Striker Nikola Zigic inspired Red Star Belgrade to a UEFA Cup performance that could herald a long-awaited revival in their European fortunes.

Zigic capped a brilliant individual performance with two goals when Red Star beat AS Roma 3-1 in UEFA Cup Group E on Thursday to keep them in the hunt for a place in the last 32.

The 1991 European champions must win their final group match away to leaders Racing Strasbourg and hope the result of Roma's home game against Basel goes their way to finish in the top three and progress in Europe beyond the winter break for the first time in 13 years.

Strasbourg lead with seven points from three matches ahead of Basel on six, Roma on four and Red Star and Tromso both on three, although the Norwegian side have completed their four fixtures and are out of the running.

However, whatever happens against the French side, the 40,000 home fans who turned up on a chilly evening in Belgrade will remember a heroic effort from their team and Zigic in particular for a long time to come.

The 2.02-metre tall striker scored Red Star's first with a trademark header, then rifled in his second and Red Star's third with a thunderbolt into the top right corner from 25 metres after side-stepping two markers.

"I've never scored a goal like that in my entire career. I was going to pass the ball but there was no one ahead of me so I just decided to go for it and see what happens," Zigic told reporters.

Either side of his brace, Zigic turned provider for strike partner Milan Purovic as the two combined to wipe out Shabani Nonda's 23rd-minute opener for Roma, who started well but buckled under intense pressure from the home side.

"Sometimes you have a good match but the opposition are able to stifle you out on many occasions. The most important thing is that we won and gave ourselves a fighting chance to stay in the competition," he said.

It was a welcome result for Red Star's Italian manager Walter Zenga after two successive defeats -- a 3-1 UEFA Cup setback away to Norwegian side Tromso a week ago and Sunday's 1-0 league defeat to Vojvodina Novi Sad.

"We are very happy because we've beaten a great team and played at the top of our limits. We will now go to Strasbourg in good spirit," the former Inter Milan and Italy goalkeeper said.

"This achievement will be remembered for some time to come but I want Strasbourg to be the most memorable evening of my coaching career so far. We must look ahead."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index