The third qualifying round completed on Tuesday and Wednesday (except for the postponed AEK Athens – Sevilla match) and there were few shocking results except for the ouster of Ajax by SK Slavia Praha. This will be a major disappointment for Ajax as they lost to FC København in the third qualifying round a year ago. Stanislav Vl?ek (pictured below on the left) was the hero for Slavia scoring twice to propel the Czech side into the group stage for the first time in their history. Ajax will drop in to the Uefa Cup, which we will talk about later this week.
Rosenborg BK beat Tampere United 2-0 (5-0 aggregate) to enter the group stage for the eleventh time. On a personal note, it’ll be nice to see Canadian goalkeeper Lars Hirschfeld playing on the big stage. Hirschfield, who also holds a German citizenship, seems to have found a home in Norway after failing to get a shot at Tottenham and several other clubs. During his time in Norway, first with Tromso IL and now Rosenborg, he has displayed the form that saw him named the best goalkeeper of the 2002 Gold Cup tournament, after allowing only four goals in five matches. He turns 30 this October and should have many fine seasons ahead of him.
Speaking of goalkeepers, Celtic FC needed some heroics from theirs to make it through. Artur Boruc denied FC Spartak Moskva’s Maxym Kalynychenko at the end of the penalty shoot-out to take the Scottish title-holders into the group stage. Their 2nd leg ended just as the first had in a 1-1 draw, which forced extra-time. Spartak’s Kalynychenko almost won it in the second period of extra-time only to be denied by Boruc before Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink struck his penalty-kick against the bar with five minutes left to play after Radoslav Ková? was judged to have handled the ball in the penalty area. Celtic will look to improve on last season, as they lost to AC Milan in the first knockout round.
In a match marred by crowd clashes, Mateja Kezman and Brazilian midfielder Alex were on target for Fenerbahce as they denied Andrelecht a place in the group stage for the first time in five years. Anderlecht will now be part of Friday’s UEFA Cup draw. Belgian police had to intervene after fans from both clubs clashed in the 80th minute and the game was stopped for several minutes after Anderlecht fans attempted to jump over fencing dividing them and visiting fans.
Arsenal, on the strength of goals from Tomas Rosicky, Cesc Fabregas and Eduardo da Silva, eased through the second leg of their tie 3-0, for a 5-0 aggregate triumph over Sparta Prague. Rosicky, in what most of have been a bittersweet moment, scored against his former club after eight minutes but it was not until the final 10 minutes that Arsenal added two more to seal the victory.
Shakhtar Donetsk came within three minutes of elimination before Brazilian midfielder Brandão struck to cap a massive comeback against FC Salzburg. Already trailing 1-0 from the match in Salzburg, Donetsk fell behind a goal before storming back to score three unasnwered goals and clinch a place in the group stage.