Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Europa League R2 second legs (part 1)

So life got in the way for a week or so, including but not limited to: bloodtests, sinus headaches, impatiently counting the hours down to a new episode of Doctor Who (Roughly 240 hours to go), medical stuff, more medical stuff and the grand art of procrastination, in which I would surely win a gold medal for Scotland.

So where were we again? Ah yes, Irtysh, Gaz Metan, Differdange et all. Brilliant. The Europa League Round 2...

SECOND LEGS!!!

Preamble just leads to disappointment, I find, so without further ado...

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Irtysh vs Olimpi Rustavi (1-1)

The numbers in brackets remind you of the first leg scoreline. A score draw in Georgia meant a goalless draw would be enough for Irtysh to qualify for the Third Round, an astounding result for them. And Irtysh had several chances to opening the scoring, before a rash free kick allowed Kobalia to opening the scoring for Rustavi. For Irtysh, who had enough chances to win seven games, let alone this one, Ivanov should have hit the target on more than one occasion, and Tleshev ought to have judged his runs more carefully, forever offside. Modebadze's 2nd half goal killed off the plucky Kazaks, whose run in Europe had lasted one more round than expected, but whose inability to score when in front of goal - the same trait they benefited from against the Poles in Round 1 - was to cost them.

As for Rustavi, it was another good performance for a Georgian side in recent years, and they qualified to meet Michael's Favourite French Team (TM) and perennial chokers/frustration-causing-side, Rennes.

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Anyone on tenterhooks after Valerenga only got a 1-0 win in Norway over Mika of Armenia can breathe easily. Freddy dos Santos in the 2nd half made a 2nd 1-0 win over Mika, and a reasonably comfortable 2-0 aggregate win. Not that convincing, but qualification was all that mattered.

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Gaz Metan v KuPs (0-1)

Gaz Metan hadn't even expected to get into Europe. They got their place right before the start of the tournament due to the expulsion of poor old Timisoara, and an unsure side had walked straight into a 1-0 first leg defeat from KuPS of Finland. This was I believe their first home game in Europe (though not AT home, those crazy UEFAs deciding almost every stadium in Europe is unsuitable for European football, seemingly). I think it might even be Gaz Metan's first European tie ever, though there are many Romanian visitors to this blog apparently - hi guys! - so they can correct me if I am wrong!

The ball was passed long from midfield, leading to some nice passing down the flank. Petre grabbed the ball and ran towards the centre of the pitch, before lashing a looping shot into the net. 1-0 for Gaz Metan, tie on! I shall be kind about the 2nd goal, and say that in the 53rd minute, a corner saw Hoban badly marked by four defenders, and he slotted the ball into the net. Oh, the details can be so cruel sometimes! It was 2-0 for Gaz Metan, who led the tie. The Finns had to score, but missed the target three times, and the closest they came was with ten minutes to go when Nykanen had a shot blocked. More chances fell for the Romanians who could have given themselves a far easier time. But it seems to me there are some club nations who, if given the choice between doing things the easy way and doing them the hard way, will always pick the harder option. Scotland is like this, and from my years watching, I'd claim Romanian sides are too!

The whistle went though, and Gaz Metan had qualified! Not even expecting to qualify for Europe, now they had a showdown with Germany shocktroops Mainz in Round 3, a tie that exploded out of the page with excitement.

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Vojvodina v Vaduz (2-0)

Vaduz are part timers from Liechtenstein. Vojvodina were the team ranked 3rd in Serbia. They had a good away win in the first leg, and were 99.9% guaranteed to qualify for Round 3.

Vaduz missed four chances in the first two minutes - two from free kicks - before Mitosevic missed the target for Vojvodina. And I am not one to unnecessarily spoil people before the fact, but fans of Serbian football may wish to look away now, as this was as good as it got for Vojvodina.

Barely ten minutes in Mojsov gave away the free kick. Sara floated it into the box, and it was harmlessly headed away, but then the midfield on the edge of the box allowed themselves to be harried off the ball, it was back in the box, the Vojvodina defence parted like the Red Sea asked for an encore of its famous Moses trick, and Cvetinovic slotted the ball into the net. Replays showed a big deflection off a Serbian player had left the scorer free, but such is football, and it summed up Vojvodina's performance so far. 0-1 Vaduz on the night. Game on?

I would like to say Vojvodina did themselves credit after that goal and put in lots of effort to put themselves out of sight, but I also do not like to lie.

By ten minutes to go, the Serbs were chasing shadows, and Vaduz were producing passing that would cause many a cliched writer to bring out references to Barcelona. Ahem. Swift passing saw the ball cross along the box, one defender falling over in what could charitably be called an attempt to clear, and more accurately be called making a right dogs dinner of the situation. Merenda was left to knock it in the net. 2-0 Vaduz, all level. Disaster for Vojovodina.

Extra Time loomed near, until, with 3 minutes to go, Vojovodina did the seemingly unthinkable and actually scored. The ball hit off a Vaduz defender on the line, but Covic's goal still counted, and it looked like Vojvodina would qualify. Losing at home to a Lichtensteinian club would be a right embarrassment, but at least they'd still qualify. Surely!

95th minute. Literally the last kick of the game. Free kick to Vaduz, near the box. See this off, and Vojvodina qualify, though they scarcely deserve to after this performance. The referee has to stamp out a lot of shoving in the box, which leads to a yellow for each team. All this kerfuffle led up to the free kick. Ciccone took it but it was headed clear, back into Ciccone's path who knocked the ball into the box, where Merenda headed it into the back of the net! 3-1 Vaduz. Game over right afterwards!

The Liechtenstein part timers had qualified, the Serbian highflyers grounded.

I could be harsh. I could be cruel. Instead, I'll be truthful. Only one side deserved to qualify here, and they did. And that might be the most damning thing of all.

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After all the excitement of the 3-1 first leg in Israel, Xazar got a dull 0-0 draw with Maccabi Tel Aviv in Azerbaijan, and exited the competition.

Fans of Estonian football grimace, as highest ranked Estonian side Levadia Tallinn lost 1-0 in Estonia to unfancied Differdange and exited. All Estonian sides were now out of Europe, a familiar story.

Elfsborg finally produced a comfortable result, 3-0 at home over Suduva to qualify 4-1 on aggregate.

There was to be no goals in Tiraspol for Sherrif v Zeljeznicar, which was to lead to a shock as the unfancied Bosnians upset the better regarded Sherrif. Last season they beat Dynamo Kiev. This season, out in Round 2!

After the tightest of first legs, Hacken scored twice away to put the tie beyond any doubt against Honka.

Bnei Yehuda, Varazdin and Vorskla qualified comfortably against weak opposition in all three cases - St Julia, Iskra Stal and Glentoran respectively. We'll hear more of all three in future rounds.

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0-0s have never been more dramatic. I watched Aktobe v Kecskemet and Qarabag v EB on a simulcast programme. A simulcast shows more than one game at the same time, flicking between both when incidents happen. It seemed like this was 90 minutes of the opposition getting twenty gazillion chances to score, and the two Eastern sides (Aktobe the Kazaks and Qarabag the Azeris) looking like collapsing at any second. Clock watching, urging the referee to blow the whistle, wishing away the seconds - wishing away precious time of my life that I will never ever see again, purely so some sides I will never see play in the flesh in my lifetime would advance to a third qualifying round. It only goes down in the record books as two 0-0 draws, which saw both Aktobe and Qarabag qualify, but I tell you, it damn near killed me. After ninety minutes, I had to have my inhaler on standby, I was on my third swear jar, and I had made seven Faustian pacts.

Bloody football, see what it does to you!

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We now say goodbye to the Welsh. Llanelli had a creditable 2-1 home win, but were crushed by the highly fancied Dinamo Tbilisi in Georgia, 5-0. Midjytlland finished the job over TNS, 5-2 in Denmark to finish an 8-3 aggregate defeat. Some bright moments for Welsh football, before the old ways came back.

It was a tough task for Floriana to pull back their 8-0 home defeat to AEK Larnaca, and they didn't come close, AEK getting a 1-0 home win to win merely 9-0 on aggregate.

Salzburg's 0-0 with Liepayas meant little as the 4-1 away win in round 1 saw the Austrians through.

Gagra produced another creditable Georgian performance, but 2-0 wasn't enough to oversee the 3-0 first leg defeat from Anorthosis.

Paks weren't expected to do much, so a 3-0 win away from home over Norwegians Tromso was a big surprise. Paks now took on Hearts of Scotland, and were sure to cause some more heartbreak soon.

An early goal for Tirana made an upset look likely, but 3 goals in response saw Trnava qualify for Round 3.

Still to come
Aalesund v Ferencvaros (1-2)
Lokomotiv Sofia v Metalurg Skopje (0-0)
Zilina v KR (0-3)
Thun v Vllaznia (0-0)
Gaziantepspor v Minsk (1-1)
Den Haag v Tauras (3-2)
Jablonec v Flamurtari
and Fulham, Split, Karagandy, Dundee United, Olimpija and Austria Wien.

Should be up before the 4th round kick offs tomorrow, but with another medical meeting, that might be up in the air. Still, good things come to those who wait...bad things too, I guess.