Thursday, 29 September 2011

Europa League Round 4

Scottish Rarebit.

Yeah, let’s get this out of the way. Spurs won 5-0 against a dispirited Hearts at Tynecastle, and a 0-0 draw was enough in England to seal passage. Rangers suffered a narrow 2-1 loss in Slovenia against Maribor, who later decided to complain, hoping to get a 3-0 win. The reason? Carlos Bocanegra had played in the first leg, and Maribor decided, after he was unable to play in a SPL match that weekend, to complain against his eligibility. Thankfully, Rangers had had UEFA dispensation to play him, so avoid being kicked out. They celebrated this by drawing 1-1 in Glasgow, and going out anyway.

Celtic v Sion was complicated. Celtic drew the home tie 0-0 and lost 3-1 away. But they lost the away tie partly down to having their eye completely off the ball. The whole thing was a farce. Sion had signed a few players – including Fiendouno – during a period which FIFA believed Sion were under a transfer ban. However, Sion believed they had already served their ban. So, Sion were warned before the draw not to play certain players in their Playoff round, as they were already in deep trouble and this would make it worse. Come the home tie with Celtic, they played all of the players in question, in a clear sign of dissent. Then they won, so Sion were in the EL group.
Or not. For after waiting far too long to make a move, UEFA decided that Sion were to be thrown out of the EL as they had said weeks earlier, but too late for the draw, as Celtic, a nominal 2nd seed, wound up 4th seeds, which leaves them in an unfortunate situation in the groups. Which, of course, they could have avoided by just winning the bloody tie in the first place. But where’s the Scottish appeal in that?

But now, it’s not over. Sion had a regional court on their side. This is a big NO NO in FIFA/UEFA talk, they hate government interference in the game, because it threatens their authority. The only court both organisations are willing to talk to is the CAS. However, the regional court have demanded Sion’s re-admittance into the EL. Christian Constantin, the President of Sion, has launched a criminal complaint against Platini and UEFA in the Swiss courts. What started as a messy problem has become a potentially explosive one, as one football club, one irate club President, and a few judges in the Swiss league system seem determined to take on UEFA and FIFA, who, as you may know, are stituated in Switzerland. It’s almost an unwinnable fight, because the situation of UEFA losing would change football forever.

Watch this space, as they say!


**

Maccabi Tel Aviv v Panathinaikos


Maccabi’s return to Europe last season including an embarrassing defeat for Olympiakos, Pana’s eternal rivals. Now, they took on a Panathinaikos in turmoil after their early exit from the Champions League. The first leg in Israel saw many people missing the target, and not much happened until the hour had appeared. Before that, we saw some great saves, most from the Greek goalkeeper.


A save from a point blank header which he managed to loop over the bar was a particular highlight. For all the saves Tzorvas the Pana keeper had made, he utterly blew it on the hour though, as he fumbled a shot, allowing Konate to make sure the shot went into the net. The Greeks were stunned, and Maccabi Tel Aviv bombed forward – it was swiftly becoming the Israelis vs the goalkeeper, who atoned for his errors with some more high class saves.

The Pana defence was panicking though, and it was Boumsong who handled needlessly in the box, allowing Atar’s cool finish for 2-0 from the penalty spot. A moment of controversy followed as a header from Pana seemed to cross the line before the keeper fumbled it away. No goal given, and then Tel Aviv scored a third. The Greeks lacked confidence and it showed. Maccabi Tel Aviv played with nothing to lose, and won 3-0. A tall ask for the second leg.


Pana needed a miracle in the second leg. Four minutes, there was a substantial break in play, after some of the Greek fans set fire to parts of their own stadium. When play resumed, Medunjanin went close with a corner for the Israelis. Pana dominated with some harried chances, but never came close to breaking the deadlock at this point. It was from a Pana free kick that the goal was given away.

The Israelis got the ball, and a long ball up the pitch completely caught the Greek defence out. A swift pass to Medunjanin, and his precise shot from outside the box went in the net. 0-1 Maccabi, practically game over on the hour. Goals can happen in an instance, and this was an instance that killed off a European tie. Pana won on the night, a Boumsong curling header and a Toche goal sandwiching Konate’s red card for a rash kick to the head. But the job was done, and Maccabi Tel Aviv were back in the group stages after a lengthy absence.

As for Panathinaikos, well, they are meant to be one of the big European teams, but their performances lately have been anything but. They need to regroup and focus.


**


Rosenborg v AEK LArnaca

In the first leg, in Norway, nothing happened. So it was 0-0 going to Cyprus. As promised, I predicted nothing but convincing Rosenborg victory.

Van Dijk scored two penalties in either half, and Henriksen answered to make it 2-1. I’d like to claim it was nervous, or in doubt, but it never was. Larnaca could have had a 3rd goal, but it was ruled offside, for reasons I still maintain were wrong. Mind you, this is the Togo/Cameroon incident all over again, and in that game, the goal actually stood.

So AEK Larnaca qualified for the group stage for the first time ever. And they did it with ease. Thumped the Maltese, thumped the former Czech champions, and although the score line doesn’t reflect, essentially they thumped Rosenborg too. Not bad for a provincial unfancied Cypriot side eh?

They’ll still be thumped in the group stage though. 0-0-6, with 0-40 goal difference.

I keep my promises.

**

Atletico Madrid wiped the floor with Guimaraes, winning 2-0 at home and 4-0 away. Not much victory there.

Sochaux looked to have a good chance after a 0-0 in Ukraine. Sadly, it was a false dawn, as Metalist Kharkiv showed no mercy in France, winning 4-0.

A 3-0 win in Turkey saw Besiktas through, but Alania, conquerors of Aktobe, made them sweat in Russia, with a 2-0 win that was a miss or two from forcing extra time.

The problems in Greece did in fact led to the expulsion of Olympiakos Volos. So Differdange of Luxembourg got a spot back in the tournament, and promptly went out 6-0 to Paris St Germain. Yeah, we didn’t want a bye for the French, but this was as good as.

Ekranas got a 1-0 win over a tired Hapoel Tel Aviv in Lithuania, and had hoped for an upset, but the comfortable 4-0 win for the Israelis back home saw them off.

PAOK comfortably saw off Karpaty, 3-1 on aggregate. PAOK produce some good results in Europe at times, time will tell if this is another glory season for them.

Trabzonspor got a 0-0 draw in Bilbao in the first leg. Then Fenerbahce got thrown out of the Champions League for match fixing, and Trabzonspor as the runners up in the Turkish league, got a dream ticket to the Champions League. As for Athletic Bilbao, now managed by former Chile and Argentina manager Bielsa, they had a bye into the group stage.

Steaua performed most un-Steaua like, 2-0 home and 1-1 away to CSKA Sofia seeing the Romanians ease through.

Nordsjaelland continued the long tradition of Danish clubs against Portuguese clubs in Europe, losing 2-1 in Portugual and exiting the competition to Sporting Clube.

Ried, those idiots of Round 3, drew in Austria against European big names PSV. PSV then won the home tie 5-0.

Trnava got a shock in the last round against Levski Sofia, but were no match for the railwaymen, as Lokomotiv Moscow eased into the group stage.

It was also the end of the road for Slask Wroclaw, who had seen off Dundee United and Lokomotiv Sofia, but were no match for Rapid Bucharest. Similarly, Litets took on Dynamo Kiev and lost.

You may recall my love of Rabotnicki, the Macedonian Arsenal. Yeah, well, they took on Lazio. Lazio won 9-1. Moving swiftly on...

**

Shamrock Rovers v Partizan Belgrade


Shamrock are Irish. Yes, I know, there’s no way you could have possibly worked that out. You were sitting in the dark, saying “I wonder where they came from? What do Shamrocks signify again?” until I let you in on that little secret. Jeez, a tough crowd tonight.

Partizan are the 2nd biggest team in Serbia historically, though they are the most successful in Europe in recent times. Which, isn’t really saying much, I’m afraid. Serbian football is not living up to any kind of a reputation at the moment.

OK, Partizan haven’t quite hit the lows of being Knocked Out by a Liechteinsteinian club, but they had gone some time before threatening to challenge in Europe the other side of Christmas. They are the type of team which challenges people in the Playoff rounds, then packs their bags for summer holidays in the group stages. Incredibly annoying.

Even so, they were the odds on favourites to qualify here. An Irish side has never made the group stages before. They had some good performances, from St Patricks and from Shelbourne, notably, but never made that final hurdle. They need a good performance in the first leg, at the Tallaght in Dublin.

However the opening was all Partizan, who wasted several shots, and it came as no surprise when Tomic opened the scoring for the Serbians, barely 15 minutes in. The ball came to Tomic on the edge of the area, and his mishit sliced into the net. The “most predictable score of the round”, I’d said. They’d managed to sell the Irish defence a complete dummy on the attack too.

It rapidly became quite a scrappy match, the ball bouncing from team to team, no real quality on display. Shamrock huffed and puffed but Partizan had more and more chances they wasted to put the game beyond doubt. Suddenly, with ten minutes to go, the ball acting more like a game of Pong, McCabe and Twigg produced a moment of genius.

Twigg had the ball, passed it to McCabe, who went round one defender, passed it back to Twigg, Twigg shot it between the defenders and McCabe fired it home in the same move. Through quick passing, the two men suddenly cut apart the Serbian team, and Shamrock had their equaliser! 1-1 it finished and a creditable draw for Shamrock’s sake, but Partizan had the all-important away goal to take back to Belgrade.


A dark but cloudless night, and a ruckus Serbian crowd, welcomed the Irish to Belgrade for the second leg. The bouncing hysteria of the Partizan crowds made the stadium more akin to a place of worship than a football stadium. And Shamrock were very lucky in the early going, as only a finger tipping save from Ryan Thompson prevented Partizan taking the lead.

It was only to be a mere first half reprieve, as a few minutes later, Tomic’s corner met Volkov’s head, into the back of the net, and Partizan led.


Shamrock needed to score now to force extra time, and very early in the second half, they gave Partizan a scare, as a Turner header glanced just wide of the net. Replays showed the Partizan keeper Illic was stranded and it was the post that saved his blushes. Shortly after, Partizan broke forward, Thompson dropped far too quickly, and Vukic had a complete open goal to tap the ball into. He only scuffed the ball over the net, when everyone else in the stadium could have scored. It was a miss so bad, that Ryan Giggs’ miss in the 2003 FA Cup match against Arsenal laughed at it. Should have been 2-0, dead and buried. Instead, a massive reprieve for the Rovers.

At this point, a large neon sign that shouted out “PIVOTAL MOMENT” at everyone didn’t descend from the heavens, but it really ought to have.

Shamrock felt like the fates were on their side, so swept forward. From a corner, the keeper Ilic knocked it back well beyond the box, all the way to Pat Sullivan the defender. If you think I’m going to say “he shot a looping unstoppable screamer from 30 yards out that looped over everyone in the box and landed with amazing precision in the top corner of the net” give yourself a pat on the back. That’s exactly what he did. The reaction was a mixture of “Did that just happen?”, “Holy shit! Great goal!” and “We’re back in this!”.

If Messi or any English player scored this one, we’d hear about it being the greatest goal of all time for ever.


Amazing moment to bring yourself back into a Cup-tie.

It got a bit scrappy after this, bookings and free kicks all over the shop. Partizan kept missing a whole flotilla of chances, each one looking more and more crucial.

Jovanovic in the 2nd half of extra time had a gilt edged chance he should have scored, but instead slipped it to the Irish keeper.

The killer moment came in the 2nd half of extra time, midway through. An error in the Serbian defence left the keeper Illic utterly stranded against two Irish players. Illic did brilliantly to make a world class save from Sives, but this only tipped it into the path of Sheppard. Illic then saved Sheppard’s shot, but in the process brought Sheppard crashing down in the box. Penalty, yellow card to the goalkeeper, and Ilic’s frustration was so real he punched the grass pitch in fury. O’Donnell calmly fired the ball into the net, and Shamrock led for the first time in the tie!


And, due to the away goals rule, which still exists in extra time, Partizan now needed two goals to stay in the tie. Ilic was a man scapegoated by the referee, but he had little blame for the goal, most of which has to fall on the Serbian defence which left their goalkeeper completely and utterly exposed. By now, tempers had risen, and Medo’s rash bundling over of Sheppard led to his second yellow and a red card. Partizan petered out, done in by the massive underdog effort.


Shamrock were in dreamland. Written off by everyone before hand, they knocked European regulars out with a humiliating win in Belgrade. Incredible performance and result, but they utterly deserved it.

**

Slovan Bratislava v Roma


The “Barceroma” experiment is in full effect. Roma were one of the favourites for this trophy, and had an easy opponent, so it seemed, in the qualifiers. The problem with easy qualifiers, is that sometimes they don’t believe they are that easy. And the Champions of Slovakia are never a side you can take easy. Just ask Celtic, still smarting from that infamous 5-0 defeat against Artmedia. Or Porto and Partizan, their other victims. Slovan had European heritage, Cup Winners Cup Winners in 1969, but little recently. Roma are one of the Seven Sisters of Italian football, who dominated European football for so long. Now Italian football is in a down time, but even then, Roma still had to have too much for the Slovaks.

A dull first leg game was livened up by Dobrotka’s only goal of the game, ten minutes from time. A good home win for Slovan. Into the second leg, Roma came out firing, and Perrotta’s early goal was no surprise. What was a surprise was Roma’s inability to carve out further chances. What was even bigger a surprise was Stepanovsky’s unexpected late away goal for the Bratislavans. What was an enormous shock was Slovan Bratislava’s final results, a cracking win over one of the favourites. Favoured for the crown, Roma were out in August!

Slovan 1-0 Roma
Roma 1-1 Slovan

**
Bursaspor v Anderlecht
AZ v Aalesund

You will swiftly see cruel European ties that arrive only to give that worst of emotions, false hope. Aalesund won at home against AZ. Would they go on to cement the place in the group stage their earlier efforts demanded. No, they lost heavily in Holland.

Anderlecht won 2-1 in Turkey, and drew the home leg 2-2.

**

Zestafoni v Club Brugge


Zestafoni had crashed out of the Champions League qualifiers, not in itself an unexpected event. In their short history, their best European result is beating Dukla Banska Bystrica of Slovakia, and last season was their first title in their short history.

Club Brugge had seen off Qarabag, purely to spite me, in the previous round. As one of the biggest clubs in Belgium, and former European Cup finalists, they are slightly better known on the football stage. In harsher times just now, as the Anderlecht/Club Brugge duopoly of last decade has been smashed in by Standard Liege and Genk.


Zestafoni took the game to their illustrious opposition though, and the Belgians were resorting to fouling to keep the game alive. Fifteen minutes in, a Zimling foul lead to an Aptsiauri free kick, but Sadjaia headed over when he had the whole net ready if only he could knock the ball to one of the many team mates in the box. Keeping the ball though, Gelashvili’s looping ball met a swift brutal save from Coosemans, the Brugge goalkeeper. The Georgians were in the ascendancy! There was controversy too, as Coosemans appeared to hack down the Georgian rushing in on the ball, but no penalty given.

Club Brugge felt like they had been given a massive let off (because they had), but the goal that was to follow was pure quality, as the Belgians passed the ball into the net. The last touch and the goal coming from Akpala. Harsh on the Georgians, but as usual in football, if you can’t take your chances, you’ll get punished!

Odjidja it was with the crucial assist, sliding the ball along the box to meet Akpala’s outstretched foot. To match further bad luck for the Georgians, there was a strong hint of offside about the goal. In fact, strong hint be damned. The footage clearly shows Objidja’s pass is made when Akpala was ahead of all the Georgian defence, clearly well offside. But the goal was given. One of the defenders has his hand up yelling “Offside” (or the Georgian equivalent) the entire time, and the Georgian commentator was very upset.


Oh to be a fan of a small team!


Zestafoni were upset, and swiftly saw yellow cards, needlessly, for Kobakhidze and Dvali. Dvali’s foul was particularly costly, as the ball was rapidly kicked up field, flicked into the middle, and Refaelov smashed it home! So in a game where they could have been 2-0 up, Zestafoni suddenly found themselves 2-0 down! Football, so effortlessly cruel.

The Georgians woke up early in the second half though. It was a Brugge chance that did it. A free kick not given for the Georgians, saw Refaelov’s chance saved by the Georgian keeper Kvaskhvadze, and Objidja, so dangerous, shot just wide of the net. A big let off for Zestafoni, and from that moment, they seemed to gain some determination and steel about their play. They also, possibly correctly, seemed to believe the referee had it in for them.


On the hour, drama! Zimling, who was forever getting in and about the Georgians, was penalised for a foul on Grigalashvili. The Georgian player, who is exactly one week older than me, hesitated over the free kick for what seemed an eternity, repositioning the ball and psyching himself up, before floating the ball into the box. The ball jigetted (a word good enough for AA Milne, so good enough for us) in the box and just out of, between both teams, before it landed at the feet of Gelashvili whose shot was one of those deflected toe-poke varieties which are so hard to defend.

Zestafoni had scored, they went absolutely nuts, and a crowd silenced by what they felt was an international conspiracy against them found their voices in the mad passion of goalscoring celebration. Of the three goals scored to that point, it was the ugliest, but the one which meant most to the stadium.

Zestafoni enjoyed this scoring lark, and bombed forward. Dvali had three defenders surrounding him on all moves, but still managed to force a throw in on the right of the pitch, equal to the box. Dvali, the wildfire in attack, was one of many Zestafoni players to look very good on the pitch in this match. This does not lead to the long pass/header/goal combo of Stoke fame that you might think I am building up to here. More a drop the ball to a player/long shot into the box/corner given combo.

The corner was a complete mess, leading to a Brugge throw in, but the mess Brugge made of their own throw in was worse, their attempts leading to Zestafoni grabbing the ball off them three times in quick succession! Gelashvili was blocked, so the ball fell to Dvali, who thought: “Oh why not, from 15 feet out I shall try and loop this ball so it smashes into the net leaving the keeper helpless, and I’ll do it in the same instance the ball is passed to me, so it’s as if I barely had a touch.” Then he did it. If Andy Gray saw it, he’d yell “WHAT A HIT, SON!” If Alan Partridge saw it, he’d yell “EAT MY GOAL!” I lack familiar catchphrases, so had to suffice with a “Bloody hell!”. There are goals from further out, and far better goals, but the accuracy, speed and skill in this one made it quite special. And it was the equaliser! 2-2! Dvali went nuts, the entire team and possibly country went nuts.
This was all Zestafoni now, and Club Brugge felt like they were in one of the earlier Hallowe’en films, and not as Dr Loomis either. They had their let off though, as Gelashvili’s diving shot almost went in but hit the bar and rolled over the net. So close.


Long time fans of this sport we call football might suspect the next bit of action to call was a killer Brugge goal. How cynical you all are! And right. Vasquez’s free kick led to Donk hitting the post, and then Hoefkens managed to get the ball in the net. I’ve been very nice about Zestafoni in this piece, deservedly so, but they need to take criticism here: there is no way in which that ball should have got into the net from that position. Disgraceful defending, and it put them in a position they didn’t deserve from the tie.

Zestafoni continued to chase the tie though. Tsinamdzgvrishvili, the substitute for the brilliant Dvali, had a shot saved off the line by Coosemans, making stats fans the world over grateful. Imagine Mark Lawrenson trying to pronounce that name! The chances kept coming though, the passing still slick. Aptsiauri, the Zestafoni captain, knocked the ball across the box, and the livewire Gelashvili slide the ball into the box, to spark WILD celebrations.


3-3 was how it stayed. A good performance from the Georgians, but it should have led to a win, and yet hadn’t.


In the second leg, barely 120 seconds into the tie, a Gorgiashvili header crashed off the bar and into Cooseman’s grateful hands. That was the moment for Zestafoni, and Akpala’s two smashing goals, both before the half hour, sealed the tie and killed off the Georgians. They had put in such a good effort, but Club Brugge’s luck, and killer instinct, was decisive.

**

Vorskla v Dinamo Bucharest


As I said before, when it comes to Dinamo Bucharest, they never do anything easy. A loss away in the Ukraine followed, Niculae’s away goal sandwiched by two from Vorskla. Still, not a bad defeat to take to Romania. In Bucharest, Vorskla scored through Januzi before Torje equalised. Into the second half, and late on Barrannik got an unexpected double for Vorskla, leaving Tucudean’s injury time goal for the Romanians irrelevant. Making things hard is one thing. Losing 2-1 and 3-2 over two legs to unknowns is another. Great result for Vorskla!

**

A tricky tie for Salzburg, who lost the first leg 2-1 in Cyprus against Omonia. Huff and puff deserted the Cypriots though, and a home win saw the Austrians qualify.

Vaslui dominated the first leg against Sparta Praha, scoring twice and could have had a bucket load more. In the second leg, Sparta couldn’t equal the deficit, so after many years of just missing out, Vaslui finally make the group stage!

Helsingborgs journey ended, as Standard Liege – a name familiar on Merseyside – comfortably won home and away to continue their European adventure, after an early and disappointing exit from the Champions League qualifiers.

AEK Athens got a narrow 1-0 lead to take to Georgia against Dinamo Tbilisi. Dinamo had equalled the task after 90 minutes, so extra time arrived, and late in the second half of that extra time, AEK Athens slipped one more goal in the net, as they escaped to the group stages by the skin of their teeth.

**
Braga v Young Boys

Both teams here were shock troops last season, but the luck of the draw meant only one could advance to the group stage. The other, so full of promise, was heading home. A 0-0 in Portugal, lead to a 2-2 in Switzerland, so it was Braga going through.

**

Legia Warsaw v Spartak Moscow


I don’t wish to give people undue praise or build up expectations unnecessarily, but it is fair to say that this was the best tie of the entire round. It also contained a bit of embarrassment for me on Bert Kassies’s board, which I am afraid, will stay with me for as long as I continue to post on that particular site.

The first leg was in Poland, and Legia had the lead before most people had sat down. Manu’s persistent run and cross swept across the box, two shots were had at the ball before Radovic slotted into the net. Legia continued to crash forward, but no further goals arrived ,and soon into the second half, they were to be punished for their laxness when Ari scored for Spartak. Radovic scored again, only for Ari to reply again. 2-2 in Poland, and on to the second leg in Russia.

There, Kombarov’s sliding shot, followed by Kombarov’s calm penalty, saw Spartak go 2-0 up early on. Then, I made my crucial gaff.


“2-0 Spartak. Tie dead and buried.”


To be fair, it did feel like that at the time!


The long ball, defender falling over, and shot in the net by Kucharczyk to make it 2-1 was good. Rybus, from the corner, with the looping 25 yarder into the net, shades of Ronaldinho vs England, was better. Gol’s deft header, which fell under the goalkeeper and into the net, in the 92nd minute, to win the tie, was better still.
So instead of the tie being dead and buried, Legia only came back and won it! Very well done to them, more shame for the Russian experts in bad European results.

**

Red Star v Rennes

Before the game I had this as a definite banana slip for Rennes. Crvena Zvezda/Red Star Belgrade/Estrella Roja/qirmizi Ulduz/Stella Rossa etc. You see, their name is Red Star translated into all the languages in the world. I often wondered why the English referred to former European Champions Crvena Zvezda as Red Star Belgrade. It’s a literal translation. D’oh!

Rennes then surprised everyone with a win in Belgrade followed by a convincing 4-0 home victory. How un-Renneslike!

**


Austria Wien v Gaz Metan

Yes, those underdog Romanians had seen off Mainz in the last round, but they would be no match for the mighty Austria Wien! An Austria Wien side whom regular readers of this series will recall, are one of my favourites in European competition. A 3-1 win for the Austrians saw them on the brink of the group stage, but a pesky 1-0 win for Gaz Metan in Romania made the tie tricky. Gaz Metan had had a great run, but the Austrian Barcelona were in the group stage.

**

Fulham v Dnipro
Birmingham v Nacional
Thun v Stoke

The English sides all had tough draws in this round, so it is to their credit how well they did. Birmingham, relegated last season, still had too much for the Portuguese side, embarrassing them with a 3-0 win. Thun saw off Palermo, but that was all their luck run out, as Stoke won in Switzerland, then thumped them 4-1 in England. Fulham v Dnipro was meant to be a close run thing, between English and the Ukrainian high spenders, but a 3-0 for Fulham in the first leg put the tie beyond any doubt. Three successes, and well done.

**

HJK v Schalke


This tie on paper is not so much “David v Goliath” as “Goliath vs one of the guys that came before David”. A nailed on victory for the European giants Schalke, who, let’s not forget, were Champions League semifinalists in April, was almost certain. But then, that’s the problem with playing football matches on paper. Reality sometimes throws up a spanner or two.

In Finland, Schalke had some chances early on, before Pukki ran in on goal and smashed the ball in from well beyond the box. Shock, and soon after they doubled it! HJK lead 2-0 and could have had much more. It ended 2-0 and was not only a great result for the Finnish, but Schalke found themselves in an almighty hole. Both of Pukki’s goals were collectors’ items!

Into the second leg. Early on , Farfan took the corner for Schalke, and Raul was hacked down by Rafinha in the box. Penalty, and Huntelaar made no mistake, firing home from the spot. Swiftly afterwards, Pukki jinked past the entire Schalke defence, and his shot was smashed against the keeper, but HJK kept the ball, got it back to Pukki, and he smashed the ball into the net. 1-1 in Germany, 3-1 HJK on aggregate! We were on course for a massive shock. Pukki looked unplayable, playing himself into a possible transfer.

Schalke, facing the firing squad straight in the face, then had to show the class they undoubtedly have. Draxler’s quick pass to Huntelaar saw him slam the ball home for 2-1. Into the early moments of the second half, and Farfan was unstoppable on the ball, until he was tripped in the box. Huntelaar’s penalty, Huntelaar’s goal, Huntelaar’s hattrick. 3-3 on aggregate now, and HJK were starting to tire out. Good passing saw Holtby’s cross knocked in by Papadopoulos with a cracking header. Schalke never looked back. Farfan’s cross, to Huntelaar, who knocked in for his 4th goal of the game. Imperious form from a great player. Marica’s cross to Draxler made it 6-1 late on.

HJK lost the 2nd leg heavily, and would lost the tie heavily had it not been for Pukki, the 21 year old Finnish star. Great goals, passes to his team, he single handedly nearly threw Schalke out of the tournament. He reminded me a lot of a young Pavel Nedved, which given Nedved was my first major football hero, is massive praise coming from me. I’m also not the only one who was extremely impressed with the young man.

On transfer deadline day, he moved from HJK... to Schalke. Six international caps in the last year, one Bundesliga appearance in the last month, and talent to burn. Remember the name Teemu Pukki, you’ll hear much more of it in the future.
HJK can’t feel too bad though. The team that beat them 6-1 (and who they beat 2-0 in Finland!) had Farfan, Holtby, Raul, Fuchs, Draxler, Marica, Huntelaar in it. It’s no surprise for a team of that quality, a team who could be candidates to win the Europa League, advancing from obscurity. But they did well, and made it a tie to remember.

**

Hannover v Sevilla


The genesis of Hannover’s recent renaissance was formed in the depths of tragedy. In 2009, Hannover’s goalkeeper, the German International Robert Enke, committed suicide. The star had been suffering from depression for many years, and had found the death of his daughter too much to take.

A team in mourning became a team in freefall, avoiding relegation narrowly that season, a 3-0 win on the last day of the season at Bochum leaving them 4th from bottom, and sending Bochum crashing to relegation in their place. The season after saw a much steelier and determined Hannover flirting with Champions League football for long spells, before finishing 4th on an impressive 60 points, and securing European football.

Standing in their way was an expected early exit at the hands of Sevilla, winners of this trophy in 2005 and 2006. The goals in Germany all came in the first half, Kanoute’s away goal sandwiched by a Schlaudraff double. A decent 2-1 win over the European heavyweights, but the score would be settled in Seville, yes?

It was Abdellaoue and Hannover who opened the scoring in Seville. Pogatetz knocked the ball into his own net for the equaliser, and it was 1-1, but Sevilla never got the goal that would force extra time, and Hannover, from tragedy, had qualified for the group stage and knocked out the 2 time winners. Good luck to them!

Shocks, great games, disgraces, controversies, lawsuits, walkovers, screamers.

And that was the round that was.