September 18, 2021

UEFA Champions League play-off scores: Aaronson helps Salzburg; Shakhtar edge Monaco; history for Sheriff


The group stages of the Champions League are complete with Red Bull Salzburg, Sheriff and Shakhtar Donetsk having emerged victorious from their play-off matchups on Wednesday. Those three clubs and Tuesday’s winners (Young Boys, Malmo and Benfica) will all go into the hat for Thursday’s group stage draw, beginning at noon ET on CBS Sports HQ and CBS Sports Network.

Here is how the last preliminary round played out:

UCL play-off results and fixtures

Tuesday, Aug. 24
Champions Path
Ferencvaros (4) 2, Young Boys (5) 2
Ludogorets Razgrad (2) 2, Malmo (3) 1

League Path
PSV Eindhoven (1) 0, Benfica (2) 0

Wednesday, Aug. 25
Champions Path
Dinamo Zagreb (0) 0, Sheriff (3) 0
Brondby (2) 1, Red Bull Salzburg (4) 2

League Path
Shakhtar Donetsk (3) 2, Monaco (2) 2 (AET)

Aaronson scores again as Salzburg ease into groups

US international Brendan Aaronson had been Red Bull Salzburg’s savior last week, scoring the late goal to give his side the lead they had thoroughly merited on home territory. The second leg only served to emphasize the gulf between the champions of Austria and Denmark with Matthias Jaissle’s side taking a two-goal lead early on against the side where he used to be assistant manager.

It took only four minutes for Salzburg to take the lead in Brondby, Benjamin Sesko taking down a long pass from Mohamed Camara and smartly hooking the ball into the net. The club that brought you Erling Haaland, Patson Daka and Sadio Mane might have unearthed more striking talent. Soon after the tie moved emphatically in the visiting team’s favor, clumsy passing out from the back by goalkeeper Mads Hermansen meaning possession was ceded to the impressive Sesko, who held the ball just long enough for Aaronson to dart into the box and slot home the goal that gave Red Bull a 4-1 aggregate lead.

That was rather enough to kill off the first half as a meaningful contest but Brondby hope sprung anew just after the hour when Kevin Tshieme met a free kick from the right at the back post, captain Andreas Maxso instinctively flicking the ball beyond Philipp Kohn in the Salzburg goal. 

Jaissle’s side did not look to sit back on a sizeable lead, instead gunning forward in numbers in an attempt to extend their advantage back to three. Though the goal did not come that attacking thrust saw the Austrians regain the initiative on the night and ease into the Champions League proper in rather more comfortable fashion than seemed likely when Maxso scored.

Extra time chaos sends Shakhtar past Monaco

This could scarcely have been a more different game from the one these two played eight days ago. Monaco dominated Shakhtar Donetsk in Kharkhiv and overturned their 1-0 deficit from the first leg inside 39 minutes only for a brutal extra time own goal by Ruben Aguilar to send them crashing into the Europa League.

For Shakhtar the absence of goalkeeper Anatoliy Trubin — or if one were inclined to be harsh the presence of veteran Andriy Pyatov — seemed to discombobulate everything ahead of them. Center-backs were loath to go back to their goalkeeper under pressure and that unlocked the Monaco press with the likes of Gelson Martins, Kevin Volland and Wissam Ben Yedder using their prodigious pace to chase down every pass.

That pressure forced mistakes with Aurelien Tchouameni winning the ball in the Shakhtar half, kickstarting an attack that saw Volland fizz a shot from the left side. Pyatov did manage to get gloves on it but could only direct the ball out to Ben Yedder, who beat the Shakhtar defense to the loose ball.

Monaco could have had more. Woeful defending from a free kick wide on the right saw Benoit Badashile ghost in behind, sweetly striking a left-footed volley against the far post. It may well have been overturned by VAR had the ball gone in the net but it typified the chaotic defense that allowed Ben Yedder to score a second in simple fashion, Caio Henrique taking down a long ball from Alexander Nubel and slipping in the striker to fire the visitors into the lead in the tie. 

Further forward the absence of Pedrinho, match winner in the first leg, left Shakhtar short on the creative spark they needed to score. All too often Roberto De Zerbi’s gameplan seemed to be little more than work it to Manor Solomon on the left and see what happened. Very little did, the Israel international hooking a desperate shot over the bar from a tight angle early in the second half after some of the best build up play of the match so far.

That passage at least seemed to bring Shakhtar back to life with the hosts attacking with the smart interplay that has made them so admired across Europe in recent years. When it clicked into gear there was nothing Monaco could do as Alan Patrick found Marlos in space on the right corner of the box, the substitute stroking a low shot beyond Nubel. With no away goals in UEFA competitions from this season onwards the tie was heading for extra time though Volland was twice denied late on, first when Shakhtar center-back Marlon got a feint touch on a cutback to put the German off his stride before Pyatov made amends for his earlier errors with a fine save down to his left.

The exertions of the preceding 90 minutes seemed to have taken their toll on both sides as they staggered their way through extra time. One of the few players with fresh legs was substitute Mykhailo Mudryk, whose dart down the left ended with his attempted cross flicking up wildly off Aguilar and looping high over Nubel.

Sheriff make history in Zagreb

If any side knows what it takes to overturn a first leg deficit in a European tie it is Dinamo Zagreb, who mere months ago were sending Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham crashing out of the Europa League. But ultimately they were unable to overturn an even greater deficit against Moldovan champions Sheriff, who will be the first representatives from their nation in the group stages.

Though Mislav Orsic and Luka Ivanusec created problems for Sheriff on the flanks at the Maksimir Stadium it was the visitors who had the best chance of the first half, defensive midfielder Sebastien Thill hitting the post in the fourth minute as Sheriff applied early pressure on the home team’s goal. 

Dinamo ultimately struggled to turn their possession and territory into good quality shots. Though they had had 20 efforts after 83 minutes the sum total of those shots was, per Opta, 0.92 expected goals with Sheriff doing well to ensure that what goalkeeper Giorgos Athanasiadis did have to face was rather comfortable to deal with.  

Here’s a recap of Tuesday’s games… 

Benfica hold out in Eindhoven

A fourth draw in as many visits to the Philips Stadion proved to be enough for Benfica to reach the Champions League group stage, Jorge Jesus’ 10 men holding out for a 0-0 draw that saw them beat PSV Eindhoven 2-1 on aggregate.

Chasing the goal they needed to take the tie to extra time — there will be no away goals rule in UEFA competitions starting from this season — it was no surprise that Dutch giants PSV dominated possession, territory and shots in the first half, particularly after Lucas Verissimo picked up two yellow cards in the space of just 32 minutes, the latter for a foul on the dangerous Cody Gakpo.

Noni Madueke went close twice soon after, first with a driving run infield from the right that saw a curling effort flash past Odysseas Vlachodimos’ far post. The Greek goalkeeper did well to parry a second effort inside the box, getting out quickly to close down Madueke’s angle to goal as the PSV forward attempted to bend the ball.

Benfica players and staff celebrate their qualification for the group stages of the Champions League
Getty Images

Though they were down to 10 men, Benfica defended impressively, introducing veteran center-back Jan Vertonghen in the second half as their task became more about holding onto their lead rather than attempting to extend it. Still Eran Zahavi should have done far, far better than hit the bar from close range after Gakpo squared for him. Following that miss PSV’s nice interplay always seemed to end with a defending body on hand to mop up anything that came into the box with most of the hosts’ best chances coming through long-range efforts by Ibrahima Sangare and Andre Ramlho. 

Yorbe Vertessen was twice denied by the excellent Vlachodimos, up on his feet quickly to parry the rebound after a powerful initial drive straight at him, whilst when Mario Gotze was fouled on the edge of the box early in the five minutes of added time the Eindhoven crowd began to hope that Zahavi might redeem himself only for his shot to deflect off the jumping wall.

Young Boys win thrilling tie

The best tie of the first leg fixtures picked up right where it had left off in an opening game that saw five outstanding goals, a red card for the winner and a penalty ruled out for encroachment. It was clumsy Ferencvaros defending that allowed Young Boys to double their aggregate lead following their win in Bern, Cedric Zesiger left unmarked in the penalty area to flick home Vincent Sierro’s corner.

The Hungarian champions had not lacked for attacking punch in the first leg and their early setback only brought a greater push for the hosts. Young Boys hardly looked like the sort of team who could control a game no matter their lead and their defense were guilty of ball watching when David van Balmoos flew out to Ryan Mmaee’s cross, palming it only into the path of Henry Wingo, the only player live to the bouncing ball. There was little if anything Van Balmoos or his defenders could do to stop the goal that brought the tie level, the outstanding Mmaee darting across to the near post where he scored the goal that leveled the tie.

The drama did not end with the half time interval. Young Boys seemed determined to make amends for letting their lead slip away, cutting Ferencvaros apart down the right before Meschack Elia crossed low for Christian Fassnacht to strike home the equalizer on the night.

If any period summed up this wonderful, barmy tie it was the 64th minute. Nicolas Moumi Ngamaleu’s burst down the left took him inside the box, a delicate chip from a tight angle crashing back off the post to Jordan Siebatcheu, who failed to turn into an empty net. Ferencvaros charged up the pitch but Aissa Laidouni was late to a 50-50 ball, receiving his second yellow card and making the home side’s task all the harder. Certainly Young Boys could not say they did not have their chances to kill off the tie as Siebatcheu saw a poor penalty saved comfortably by Denes Dibusz.

One could not help but sense that all those wasted opportunities might be punished by Ferencvaros but to the last this tie proved to be utterly unpredictable, Felix Mambimbi sneaking behind the defense before curling an excellent shot across Dibusz’s body, sending the Swiss side into the group stages for the first time in three years. David Wagner’s side are sure to be a thrilling watch whoever they are drawn against.

Malmo survive Ludogorets charge

Trailing 2-0 from the first leg, Ludogorets could scarcely ease themselves into the game but they did seem to be second best early on as their visitors looked to kill off the tie. However a goal against the run of play set the stage for an altogether more intriguing tie, captain Anton Nedyalkov meeting a corner to halve the deficit. Almost immediately it seemed Malmo had restored their two-goal aggregate lead when Soren Rieks converted in the 16th minute but VAR intervened after spotting an offside Anders Christiansen in the build up.

There was to be no reprieve for the hosts in Razgrad just before the interval, a 33-yard free kick from Veljko Birmancevic taking the slightest of deflections as it flew into the net, the second brilliant goal he has scored in this tie.

That might have been enough to kill off Ludogorets’ hopes but instead they went about their task with greater urgency still, pressing higher up in the second half in a bid to force a mistake from Malmo. It duly came just before the hour, VAR calling back play after a Christiansen chance to award the penalty that Pieros Sotiriou despatched.

Though Kiril Despodov went close late on Malmo just about managed to hold Ludogorets at arms’ length with the home side failing to register a shot on target after the penalty.





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