Attention turns to Monaco on Thursday afternoon for the draw for the group stage of the UEFA Champions League, with Russian interest ensured after PFC CSKA Moskva's 1-1 draw with Rangers FC last night took them through 3-2 on aggregate.
'Strong and united'
Brazilian forward Vágner Love scored the all-important away-goal for Valeriy Gazzaev's side, but the coach praised a team effort that sees CSKA go into the draw with nothing to fear. "We knew Rangers would be well supported here in Glasgow, so we paid special attention to defence and from this point of view we played superb football," Gazzaev said. "It was a strong and united performance by all the players."
AC Sparta Praha also dug deep, overturning a first-leg deficit against Ferencvárosi TC thanks to defender Jirí Homola's extra-time winner. "Our strong desire in extra-time has brought us Champions League football again and we're looking forward to playing the big guns," a relieved Sparta coach František Straka said.
Big guns advance
Some of those big guns who advanced safely to the group stage last night include 2002 finalists Bayer 04 Leverkusen, and past-winners Real Madrid CF, Manchester United FC, PSV Eindhoven and Juventus FC, who imposed themselves in Stockholm against Djurgårdens IF after a 2-2 first-leg draw had sent the alarm bells ringing.
'Proved our strength'
Pavel Nedved, scorer of one of Juve's goals in their 4-1 win, admitted defeat had been unthinkable. "It would have been a wasted year without the Champions League," he said. "We proved our strength but still we have plenty of things to improve. I believe we can go a long way in this competition."
PSV pulled off the result of the night, beating FK Crvena Zvezda 5-0 to overturn a 3-2 first-leg deficit. "We got off to the best possible start and the early goal settled our nerves," PSV coach Guus Hiddink said. "After the second goal we were in complete control of the match. We are extremely pleased to have qualified for the Champions League. It's always a great honour for PSV to take on the biggest teams in Europe."
'Dream come true'
Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC are also thinking big after qualifying for the group stage for the first time after seeing off PAOK FC. "It's a dream come true for me and everyone connected to this club," coach Nir Klinger said. "Even though I know we will be up against Europe's finest, I am optimistic we can achieve things."
It was a big night too for Ukrainian football as both FC Shakhtar Donetsk and FC Dynamo Kyiv advanced to the group stage, the latter after overturning a 2-1 first-leg deficit by beating Trabzonspor 2-0 in Turkey. This despite being reduced to ten men two minutes into the second half.
"This was not an easy thing to do," Dynamo coach Jozsef Szabo said. "Yes, we had to hang on in the second half, but we played well in the first. I have to thank all my boys who, despite being exhausted, held on until the final whistle to get us into Champions League."
For Shakhtar coach Mircea Lucescu, whose side advanced comfortably after a 2-2 draw away to Club Brugge KV, the hard work has only just begun. "We are satisfied with qualification, but our goal is to reach the quarter-finals. I want to be playing in Europe when spring arrives," he said.
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