FK Vardar became the first side from F.Y.R. Macedonia to reach the third qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League by surprisingly eliminating Russian league leaders PFC CSKA Moskva 3-2 on aggregate after a 1-1 draw in Skopje.
Leading 2-1 after the first leg in Moscow last week, Vardar were put under pressure from the outset, but initially struggled to break down the home team's defence. However, Spartak Gogniev went close for CSKA in the 25th minute, and three minutes later had another chance only to see his shot from the edge of the area saved by Vardar goalkeeper Muarem Zekir.
Gogniev on target
A minute past the half-hour, CSKA did break the deadlock, as Gogniev capitalised on confusion inside the Vardar penalty area to sweep the ball into the net. The goal seemed to spur the home team forward, but Oliveira Wandeir Dos Santos's header drifted just wide with CSKA goalkeeper Veniamin Mandrikin beaten. In an exciting finish to the first half, CSKA's Jirí Jarošik nearly put his side in front on aggregate on the stroke of half-time, but failed to find the target.
Vardar pressed forward more in the opening minutes of the second period, but again it was the visitors who came closest to finding the net, as Rolan Gusev's 20-metre free-kick hit the post, although Vardar's Rogerio Da Costa might have restored his side's overall lead moments later only to shoot wide.
In the 65th minute it was 1-1, as Vardar broke forward on the counterattack with Srdan Zaharievski finding Da Costa, who in turn passed to Dos Santos, and the striker made no mistake. CSKA threw men forward as the match wore on, and Jarošik came close to sending the tie into extra time in the final minute, but his header was blocked by Dejan Brankvic and Vardar held on.
"I must admit that CSKA were the better team in first half," said Vardar coach Zoran Stratev. "But my team played very well.
We proved that we can play against great teams and I must congratulate my players and our fans who gave us the strength to achieve this historic success."
'We are not ready'
His CSKA counterpart Valeri Gazzaev was gracious in defeat, saying: "I congratulate Vardar, and I wish them very well in third qualifying round. I accept full responsibility for this defeat - obviously we are not ready to play in Champions League."
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