Winners and Losers from 2nd Leg of Champions League Qualifiers
Ten second-leg UEFA Champions League qualifiers took place over the past two evenings to decide the final composition of Thursday’s draw for the group stage of Europe’s premier club competition.
We pick out the various winners and losers from across the continent after two nights of dramatic action…
Winner: Incredible Hulk at the Double
Muscular Brazil international Hulk was at his irresistible best on Tuesday evening to help fire Andre Villas-Boas' Zenit St Petersburg through to the group phase of the UEFA Champions League with a second-half brace against Standard Liege.
The inconsistent forward was heavily criticised by both the Selecao fans and press for his lacklustre displays in attack for the host nation at this summer’s World Cup.
However, Hulk appeared a player reborn as last season’s Russian Premier League runners-up easily overcame Standard 3-0 on the night, and 4-0 over the two legs.
The 28-year-old’s second goal—his opener came from the penalty spot—was the eye-catching moment of the tie. Picking up possession of the ball near the halfway line after a stray pass from the visitors, Hulk then went on a powerful solo run that took him past three Liege players, before coolly planting the ball into the far corner of the net to complete the home side’s scoring.
Loser: No Champions League Tune to Be Heard This Season for New Bhoys' Deila
Under-pressure Celtic manager Ronny Deila was brave enough to admit after Maribor’s 1-0 win at Celtic Park on Tuesday evening that the Scottish Premier League champions were simply “not good enough” to progress in the competition.
And the new man in charge in the East End of Glasgow was right after the home side managed just two shots on target in the whole 90 minutes of their vital second-leg UEFA Champions League qualifier against the Slovenian title holders.
However, quite where the Hoops’ 2-1 aggregate loss now leaves the 38-year-old Norwegian’s position at the club is anyone’s guess, with Celtic’s disgruntled fans quick to make their feelings on their team’s limp display known at full time.
Winners: Just Champion for Portuguese Football in Europe
Porto had no problems seeing off the challenge of Ligue 1 outfit Lille 2-0 at the Dragao on Tuesday evening to safely advance through to Thursday’s group-stage draw for the 19th time in the Portuguese giants’ history.
And the home side, who won thanks to second-half goals from Yacine Brahimi and prolific Colombia striker Jackson Martinez, will now join both last season’s champions Benfica and runners-up Sporting Lisbon to make it an all-too-rare three Primeira Liga teams in Europe’s premier club competition this campaign.
Winner: Alexis Picks Great Time to Break His Gunners Duck
Alexis Sanchez started repaying the faith that Arsenal invested in him when the north London club splashed out a whopping £35m on the forward last month by scoring the winner against Besiktas at the Emirates on Wednesday night.
And the 25-year-old’s first goal for his new club not only guaranteed the Gunners a safe passage through to the group phase of the UEFA Champions League for a 17th year in a row, but it may also convince boss Arsene Wenger to now play Alexis upfront in place of the injured Olivier Giroud.
This is, after all, a technically accomplished Chile international who netted 47 times in only 141 matches in all competitions during his three campaigns with Barcelona prior to moving to the capital.
Loser: It’s a Case of Jeepers Keepers in the Basque Country
At one of the cathedrals of Spanish football on Wednesday evening, a raucous San Mames, Athletic Bilbao’s prayers were answered by a howler from Napoli goalkeeper Rafael Cabral that gifted Bilbao a place in the group stage of this season’s UEFA Champions League.
With the scores level both on the night and on aggregate, the Brazil international decided to dash from his goal in an attempt to intercept an intended through-ball over the top for the onrushing Aritz Aduriz, only for the forward to get there just ahead of the new Napoli No. 1.
And with that one tiny misjudgement, the Serie A club were on their way out of Europe’s showpiece club competition, at a cost of millions of euros to the Southern Italian giants.
Winner: Ex-Dinamo Star Makes Steaua Pay a Massive Penalty
Centre-back Cosmin Moti was the hero for Ludogorets Razgrad as the Bulgarian champions made it through to the UEFA Champions League proper for the very first time in their history on Wednesday evening after beating Steaua Bucharest on penalties.
But it was as a goalkeeper—not in his usual central-defensive berth—that the Romania international won the game for the home team after they had taken the tie into extra with a stunning late Wanderson volley, only to then be reduced to 10 men in the final minute.
And that meant Moti, who used to play for Steaua’s archrivals Dinamo, opting to go in goal for the ensuing shootout. However, the stand-in No. 1 not only saved two spot kicks, but he also scored his side’s first penalty on their way to a 6-5 sudden-death win.