Tales of heroism and woe punctuated the final night of UEFA Europa League qualifying, with Legia Warszawa, AEK Larnaca FC and Shamrock Rovers FC completing dramatic passages into the group stage while defeats for Celtic FC and Rangers FC spelled footballing disaster for Scotland.
The group stage will be packed with top clubs like Tottenham Hotspur FC, Club Atlético de Madrid, S.S. Lazio and Paris Saint-Germain FC, but they will rub shoulders with some less illustrious names, notably ambitious Cypriot side AEK Larnaca, who built on a 0-0 draw at Rosenborg BK with a 2-1 win at home to the one-time UEFA Champions League regulars.
Dubliners Shamrock Rovers may have trumped that; they came from behind to earn a 1-1 draw in Belgrade, an identical result to the first leg of their tie against FK Partizan, and then silenced their hosts in extra time, Stephen O'Donnell's penalty seven minutes from the end making them the first Irish side to reach the group stage of a major UEFA club competition.
Legia's success against FC Spartak Moskva was no less extraordinary. Following a 2-2 draw at home last week, Legia trailed 2-0 after 27 minutes in Moscow, with twins Kirill and Dmitri Kombarov scoring one apiece. However, Michał Kucharczyk swiftly got one back, Maciej Rybus equalised before the break and Janusz Gol won it in added time.
Coach Maciej Skorża said: "This is the biggest day of my coaching career; even better than when my Wisła side beat Barcelona 1-0. What's more, it gave us a UEFA Europa League place, which is totally amazing."
Others in the pink included Stade Rennais FC, 4-0 winners against FK Crvena zvezda on the night, and 6-1 victors on aggregate. PSV Eindhoven put five without reply past SV Ried − all of them in the second half − to atone for a 0-0 draw last week, while FC Schalke 04, who lost 2-0 in the first leg of their tie against HJK Helsinki, prevailed 6-1, with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar scoring four.
Myron Markevich's FC Metalist Kharkiv impressed in previous group stage campaigns, and will look to do so again after following up a 0-0 draw at home with a 4-0 defeat of FC Sochaux-Montbéliard in France. Georgia, however, will not be sending a team to the group stage; FC Zestafoni were overwhelmed at Club Brugge KV, while FC Dinamo Tbilisi bowed out to AEK Athens FC after extra time.
If it was a disappointing night for Georgia, it was an apocalyptic one for Scotland as both Old Firm clubs went out. Following a 0-0 home draw with FC Sion, Celtic were reduced to ten men within two minutes of kick-off in Switzerland when Daniel Majstorović was shown a straight red card. The Swiss side went on to win the game and the tie 3-1.
Rangers trailed NK Maribor 2-1 from the Slovenian leg of their tie, before limping out with a 1-1 draw at Ibrox. "You can't miss the chances we did over the two legs and expect to go through," said manager Ally McCoist.
ŠK Slovan Bratislava pulled the plug on AS Roma, with substitute Peter Štepanovský striking eight minutes from time to earn a 1-1 tie in Italy, and a surprise 2-1 aggregate success.
A list of the 48 clubs who qualified for the UEFA Europa League group stage, the draw for which takes place at 13.00CET on Friday, can be found here.
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