Seaman secures Arsenal triumph

Sampdoria 3

Arsenal 2

(aet; 5-5 on aggregate;

Arsenal win 3-2 on penalties)

David Seaman was chaired from his goal in triumph last night, after emerging as the biggest hero in an Arsenal team full of them. The England goalkeeper, playing with two cracked ribs, saved a hat-trick of penalties as Arsenal won a thrilling European Cup-Winners' Cup semi-final in the most dramatic fashion.

Twice behind, Arsenal forced extra time with just three minutes remaining when Stefan Schwarz drove a home a 30-yard free-kick. Extra time failed to separate the teams and neither did the first nine penalties; Seaman saved from Sinisa Mihajlovic and Vladimir Jugovic, but Eddie McGoldrick shot over the bar and Walter Zenga denied Paul Merson. With Arsenal 3-2 up, Attilio Lombardo had to score the 10th spot-kick to force sudden death, but Seaman, diving to his left, pawed the shot away with his right hand. As all but the 1,700 Arsenal fans fell silent in an emotionally exhausted crowd, Seaman was engulfed by his team-mates.

Arsenal now meet Real Zaragoza in the final in Paris on 10 May. Victory would make them the first team to defend the trophy successfully, although Steve Bould will not be able to play; he was booked for dissent and is suspended.

Arsenal had begun the night badly, with Roberto Mancini running on to Riccardo Ferri's chipped pass to wipe out their first-leg advantage after just 13 minutes. As Mancini sprinted by Bould, Arsenal looked in vain for a linesman's flag. But Lombardo, coming back from an offside position, was correctly judged not to be involved in play.

Sampdoria, having lost 3-2 at Highbury, thus led on away goals and Arsenal looked about to fold. But rather than press home their advantage, the Italian side allowed Arsenal to settle, and the visitors recovered their poise and confidence.

They went close through Paul Merson, whose 30th-minute shot was well saved by Zenga, and John Hartson, who headed just over the bar soon after. Then, on the hour, a Merson cross was flicked on by Hartson, and Ian Wright volleyed in his ninth goal of the competition. It maintained his record of scoring in every game, and put him in sight of a remarkable record. In four decades of European competition, no one has ever scored in every match in every round.

Arsenal were now 4-3 ahead, but it was a precarious lead. One goal would put Sampdoria through, and with the match into its last eight minutes, they scored two. A harsh free-kick was given against Tony Adams for handball. Mihajlovic drove it into the wall, Mancini had another go with the rebound, and Claudio Bellucci deflected the shot past Seaman with his head. Three minutes later, Sampdoria were convinced they had won as Bellucci, who had only been on the pitch for 11 minutes, struck again.

As Arsenal pressed forward Hartson lost possession, the play was switched, via Lombardo, from box to box, and Bellucci slid the ball past Seaman. Pandemonium ruled. Yet three minutes later, Arsenal hauled themselves back into the tie as Schwarz drove a 30-yard free-kick past Zenga to put the game into extra time.

It was well deserved. The midfield, with Martin Keown playing as well as he ever has for Arsenal, and Schwarz calm and dominant, had excelled.

For the first time in the match Sampdoria took control, but an exhausted Arsenal hung on for penalties. Memories of 1980, when they lost a shoot- out to Valencia in the final of this competition, returned.

Graham Rix, on the losing side as coach to Chelsea in the other semi- final last night, missed the crucial penalty against Valencia. It has taken 15 years for fate, helped by large amounts of courage and talent, to even the score.

"I would rather save them than take them," Seaman said. "My stomach wasn't churning - the pressure is not on the goalkeeper. You dive the right way, it hits you, and you are a hero," he added modestly. "This is the best performance I can remember from an Arsenal team."

Paris in the springtime now beckons for Arsenal and their excellently behaved supporters. It is an uplifting end to a traumatic season, and after last night, no club can ever have deserved it more.

Sampdoria (3-4-3): Zenga; Mannini, Ferri (Bellucci, 74), Vierchowod; Serena, Evani (Invernizzi, 59), Jugovic, Maspero; Lombardo, Mancini, Mihajlovic.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Seaman; Dixon, Bould, Adams, Winterburn; Hillier (McGoldrick, 54), Keown, Schwarz, Merson; Wright (Kiwomya, 80), Hartson.

Referee: G Grabher (Austria).

PENALTY

SHOOT-OUT

Dixon scored 1-0

Mihajlovic saved 1-0

McGoldrick missed 1-0

Jugovic saved 1-0

Hartson scored 2-0

Maspero scored 2-1

Adams scored 3-1

Mannini scored 3-2

Merson saved 3-2

Lombardo saved 3-2

Arsenal win 3-2

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