Banel Nicolita's stunning second-half strike set FC Steaua Bucuresti on course for a 3-0 victory against ten-man Real Betis Balompié to book a place in the UEFA Cup quarter-finals as they marked their return to Seville, the city of their greatest triumph, in style.
Steaua lifted the 1985/86 European Champion Clubs' Cup at Sevilla FC's Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán home, defying the odds to defeat FC Barcelona 2-0 on penalties. Almost 20 years later many of that famous team were at the Manuel Ruíz de Lopera to cheer on their successors and Cosmin Olaroiu's side did not disappoint. Going into the game on the back of a goalless first leg, the Romanian outfit frustrated Betis for much of the encounter before Nicolita struck a sumptuous opener on 54 minutes.
The midfielder scored again late on, by which time Victoras Iacob had also registered but it was the opener that proved pivotal, the away-goals rule leaving the home team needing to score twice to keep their hopes alive. Those aspirations vanished just six minutes later when their principle outlet, Joaquín Sánchez, was dismissed after retaliating to a foul by Nicolae Dica.
The Spain midfielder had twice come close in the first half as Betis squandered countless opportunities. Robert was particularly guilty as he failed to direct a close-range header past goalkeeper Carlos Alberto Fernandes midway through the opening period. Steaua had created little in response, but took a shock lead nine minutes after the restart when Nicolita fired a blistering long-range effort beyond the outstretched arms of Pedro Contreras.
Dani Martín then hit the crossbar for Betis before a Iacob header made it 2-0 to Steaua with 12 minutes remaining, but the night was Nicolita's, and he completed victory in style as he dribbled past two defenders before drilling a superb low shot past Contreras. A yellow card to Gabriel Bostina means the Romanian team will be without the midfielder for the last-eight first leg, but that will not take the gloss off a fine performance.
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