The first legs of the the third qualifying round were played on Tuesday and Wednesday and there were few surprises among the results. Among the notable events from Tuesday, Freddy Adu made his debut appearance for Benficabut it was old boy Rui Costa who stole the show and proved he is still capable of performing at the highest levels. The 35-year-old scored a brace and was the difference on the night as Benfica took a 2-1 lead over FC Copenhagen. Canadian Atiba Hutchinson replied for Copenhagen but they face an uphill battle to make the group stages.
The match between Lazio and Dinamo Bucuresti was marred by violence and racist chants which UEFA will review. Lazio have been punished by UEFA on three previous occasions over violent and racist behaviour, including being forced to play behind closed doors after racist abuse and crowd disturbances during a UEFA Cup in 2004. On Tuesday, five Romanians were injured in clashes with Lazio fans and one remains in hospital after being stabbed in the side. Inside the ground, Lazio’s well-known right wing element chanted racist slogans during the 1-1 draw.
Ionel Danciulescu’s first-half header gave Dinamo a vital away goal and goalkeeper Bogdan Lobont’s efforts included saving a penalty after a Dinamo defender was judged to have handled in the area. Massimo Mutarelli grabbed a goal in the 53rd minute before being sent off later in the half. The contest was a heated affair with two Lazio players and one Dinamo player being sent off and a total of 12 cards being shown.
Other scores and links to highlights from Tuesday:
Moving onto Wednesday’s action, Liverpool took a 1-0 lead on Toulouse thanks to an Andriy Voronin strike. Liverpool’s win came at a cost as captain Steven Gerrard picked up a hairline fracture to one of the toes on his right foot. He may still play against Chelsea in their Premier League clash on Sunday but it is likely to be a game time decision. Toulouse did create a few chances in the sweltering 36C heat but were unable to level the score. They are still in the tie and will look to pull off a major upset at Anfield.
Scottish champs Celtic kicked off their campaign with a solid away showing against Spartak Moscow. The two clubs battled to a 1-1 draw which sets up an intriguing return fixture in Glasgow. Celtic opened the scoring after Scott McDonald’s cross was powered home by Paul Hartley’s superb header but Roman Pavlyuchenko headed home an equalizer 20 minutes later. Celtic were put under early pressure and were nearly down 1-0 after only 9 minutes as Pavlyuchenko neatly backheeled a Welliton cross into the net from eight yards only to be ruled offside. From the TV replays that I saw, it did not look offside and I think Celtic got a bit lucky with the call.
Pavlyuchenko got his revenge in the 41st minute thanks to a Roman Shishkin cross into the penalty area. Pavlyuchenko rose above the Celtic defence and directed a looping header toward the back post. Goalkeeper Mark Brown could not get enough the ball to prevent it from trickling into the net. Both sides had their chances to grab the win but were unable to do so. Celtic will hope their home atmosphere can give them the edge in the 2nd leg.
Cesc Fabregas and Alex Hleb scored a goal each to give Arsenal a 2-0 win and a strong 2 away goal advantage over Sparta Prague. Arsenal lacked their usual fluent movement but were still able to come through with a result. The match was a scrappy affair with Spartak attempting to boss the smaller Arsenal players around and, at times, it felt like their were more fouls committed than passes attempted. The tactics seemed to work for Sparta in the first half, as the Gunners seemed a bit unsettled and Sparta grew in confidence, zipping the ball around the and catching Arsenal out of position. Around the 9 minute mark, Pavel Horvath’s cross drifted beyond left-back Gael Clichy and Jan Rezek employed great technique to volley sweetly, but was denied by the post. Ironically, it would Clichy that would get the game up and running in the second half. In the 72nd minute, Clichy intercepted a pass, skipped past two challenges and laid the ball off to Fabregas, whose calm finish put Arsenal up 1-0. The second Arsenal goal was also created by a defender as Bacary Sagna stormed down the left flank before passing inside to Hleb, who scuffed his shot still but was still able to beat the keeper.
Other scores and highlights from Wednesday:
Fenerbache 1 – Anderlecht 0
BATE Borisov 2 – Steaua Bucuresti 2
Werder Bremen 2 – Dinamo Zagreb 1
FC Zurich 1 – Besiktas 1
SV Salzburg 1 – Shakhtar Donetsk 0
Ajax 0 – Slavia Prague 1