FC National Bucuresti 2-2 SK Tirana (National win 3-2 on aggregate)
FC National Bucuresti scraped through to the UEFA Cup first round tonight despite being held to a draw at home against the Albanian side SK Tirana tonight.
After winning the first leg 1-0 in unconvincing fashion, National were out to make amends in front of their own supporters but failed to produce any cohesion as Tirana fought all the way to the belated final whistle in an exciting finish that would have seen them progress with one more goal.
National did dominate the early part of the game but were caught out in the eighth minute when Fjodor Xhafa crossed from the left for an unmarked Eldorado Merkoci to open the scoring with a well-placed header.
The Romanian team seemed shocked and, had it not been for the probing of their captain, Sabin Ilie, who pushed his team forward, the damage could have been worse. Ilie was involved in all National's best moments; his header was superbly turned away by Tirana's goalkeeper Egbo Ndubuisi in the 18th minute and he hit the crossbar with a free-kick moments later.
National's pressure eventually told and they equalised in the 30th minute when Sergiu Radu's pass put Ilie through who equalised with a cute lob over Ndubuisi. The goalkeeper then kept Tirana in the match as National piled on the pressure. First he saved from another Ilie header in the 37th minute and then he denied a powerful shot from Radu two minutes later.
National went into their shells after the break and failed to recreate the pressure they had had at the end of the first period. It was not until the 60th minute that they produced a worthy effort which screamed into the top corner from Radu's boot to put the home side 2-1 up.
National now appeared to be home and dry but substitute Daniel Zaccanti instilled panic into the home ranks with a wonderful equaliser after Tirana had put everything into attack. Suddenly, National began to panic and Tirana began to believe and they came close on several occasions to grabbing the all-important equaliser that would have sent them through on away goals.
Zaccanti almost became Tirana's hero of the night when a spectacular overhead kick sailed narrowly wide in the final minute. Even then National were forced to hang on for six minutes of injury time before the referee put them out of their misery.
"I expected such a difficult game," National's coach, Walter Zenga, said. "I said after we won 1-0 in Albania, that nothing is decided. And that's how it was. I congratulate my boys for the commitment, we saw what went wrong and we'll try to make it better for the first round."