UEFA: Champions League Round-Up
The latest installment of UEFA Champions League qualifying round action was completed tonight and there are many teams celebrating reaching the play-off rounds of Europe’s premier club competition. For the losers in this round though all is not lost as they have one more chance of European club football this season as they will participate in the play-off rounds of the UEFA Europa League. Stoppage Time – International Football Blog reviews the third qualifying round action:
The action got under way on Tuesday with Belgian champions RSC Anderlecht progressing easily in the end getting the better of Welsh champions The New Saints. After the first leg, played in Wrexham, finished 3-1 for Anderlecht any hopes that the Welsh side had of causing a second leg upset were dashed by Romelu Lukaku who scored a brace for Les Mauves in their 3-0 second leg victory. The other winners on Tuesday were Hapoel Tel Aviv, the Israeli champions who trailed 1-0 after the first leg, scoring three times before finally scraping through after surviving a late second leg scare when their opponents FK Aktobe scored a last gasp goal to pull one back. The Kazakhstan champions ran out of time, however, and succumbed to a 3-2 aggregate defeat.
Wednesday night saw thirteen matches, five of those in the “Non-Champions” group which we’ll focus on towards the end of the blog. In the “Champions” section there were a few ties which were Eastern European in nature with the most high profile game involving Czech champions Sparta Praha getting the better of Polish champions Lech Poznań with a 1-0 scoreline in each leg. MŠK Žilina (Slovakia) proved too good for Litex Lovech (Bulgaria) with a 3-1 second leg victory aiding their overall 4-2 triumph. One hundred and twenty minutes of second leg action couldn’t separate Sheriff Tiraspol (Moldova) and Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia) so they had to decide their encounter via the lottery of a penalty shoot-out. A topsy-turvy, roller coaster ride of a shoot-out saw both teams take nine penalties each. With the ninth penalty Dodô’s miss followed by Artiom Haciaturov’s subsequent strike game the Moldovan champions a surprise 6-5 shoot-out win in Zagreb. Serbian champions Partizan Belgrade completed the job against Finnish champions HJK Helsinki beating them 2-1 in the second leg and 5-1 on aggregate whilst FC København (Denmark) just about saw off the challenge of a determined BATE Borisov with the Belarussian champions coming from two goals down to restore parity on half-time before the Danes secured the win early in the second half through Dame N’Doye in the 59th minute. The other winners in the Champions section were FC Basle (v Debreceni), Rosenborg (v AIK Solna) and Red Bull Salzburg (v Omonia Nicosia) who all gained easy wins over their luckless opponents.
In the “Non-Champions” section of the competition Glasgow Celtic’s optimism ahead of their second leg against Portuguese runners-up Sporting Braga seemed misplaced following the 3-0 hammering they suffered in the first leg. However the Portuguese side took the lead at Parkhead which meant that the Bhoys needed to score five goals without reply in order to go through to the play-off round. Sadly they could only get two of those required goals and thus went out 4-2 on aggregate to confine Celtic to the Europa League play-off round. Currently league leaders in Russia, Zenit St Petersburg got the better of Romanians Unirea Urziceni by the one goal to nil over two legs with Danny’s 33rd minute strike in the second leg proving decisive. In an amazing game in Thessaloniki home side PAOK had their Champions League dreams denied by Dutch giants Ajax Amsterdam who went through on away goals after a dramatic 3-3 draw on Wednesday saw the game tied at 4-4 overall. Young Boys Berne (Switzerland) produced the shock of the round in this section knocking out Turkish giants Fenerbahçe with a 3-2 aggregate win whilst the final game of the round saw Dynamo Kyiv (Ukraine) easily see off the weak challenge from K.A.A. Gent (Belgium) 6-1 on aggregate.