Goals from Almen Abdi and Johan Vonlanthen ensured FC Zurich their first-ever UEFA Champions League group stage participation as a straightforward 2-1 victory over FK Ventspils confirmed a 5-1 aggregate play-off triumph.
Zürich, playing in St Gallen due to the fact that a Golden League athletics meeting – the famed Weltklasse event – is taking place in their home stadium on Friday, were quickly out of the blocks and extended their already unassailable-looking aggregate advantage to 4-0 after just six minutes.
Vonlanthen pulled slightly wide of his marker and Xavier Margairaz spotted the run and played a pinpoint pass across the pitch to the Swiss international striker. His first touch came back off the keeper but his second rebounded into the net. Perhaps lulled by their lead, Zürich were caught out at the back within two minutes. Igor Tîgîrlas was left completely unmarked on the edge of the penalty area and the Moldova midfield player made no mistake with a drive into the bottom corner to offer the visitors a sliver of hope.
Zürich almost restored their lead after 12 minutes but Pavel Chesnovski dived bravely at the feet of Margairaz to deny him, then a minute later Vonlanthen had an effort cleared off the line. After 31 minutes, as the hosts continued to press, Chesnovski did well to beat away Alexandre Alphonse's fierce shot. Ventspils were not conceding defeat, though, and saw Grigori Chirkin's shot deflected narrowly wide after 38 minutes.
Dušan Djurić brought another fine save from Chesnovski, Margairaz shot over and Alphonse glanced a header wide as Zurich dominated possession and territory again after the break. However, they were unable to add to their solitary strike until injury time when substitute Abdi headed home from Vonlanthen's cross. The goal brought further cheer to the thousands of Zurich fans who made the Arena St Gallen their home for the night. They held banners boasting of future challenges against FC Bayern München and Real Madrid CF as they celebrated arguably the greatest night in their history since they reached the European Champion Clubs' Cup semi-finals in 1964 and 1977.
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