PAOK FC left the freezing temperatures of the Russian capital ruing what might have been, having secured a 1-1 draw against PFC CSKA Moskva only to be eliminated from the UEFA Europa League 2-1 on aggregate.
Needing to overturn a 1-0 deficit from the first leg of their round of 32 tie, PAOK started well. Although the home side enjoyed the lion's share of possession, it was the visitors who created the more incisive chances, with Vladimir Ivić and Zlatan Muslimović wasting clear opportunities.
"If you don't take your chances, you are not going to win," said Muslimović. "We did create a number of opportunities and it was good to do this away from home. We needed victory by at least a goal and even after we went a goal up, we had more chances to increase our lead, but we failed to take them and we were unlucky."
Despite having averaged more than four goals a game in their four home encounters since entering the competition in the play-offs, CSKA found the going difficult against a PAOK team who were content to play on the counterattack. Indeed, CSKA's Zoran Tošić found the return a more testing assignment than last week's opening instalment in Salonika.
"This was a much better game than the first because PAOK were much better," said the Serbia winger. "We weren't able to control the game like we did in the first leg, but we must be happy that we managed to qualify. Nevertheless, we need to look at our performance, which wasn't great, and cut out the mistakes."
One such unforced error gifted the Greek outfit their goal midway through the second half. Muslimović was the scorer, though it was confusion between Vasili Berezutski and substitute keeper Sergei Chepchugov which let in the PAOK striker. With the game heading for extra time, though, CSKA finally found their stride and regained the initiative when Sergei Ignashevich reacted first to Vágner Love's saved penalty.
"The weather conditions didn't help," added CSKA midfielder Evgeni Aldonin. "It's not easy to play when it's so cold, but thankfully we were able to launch a comeback and that is enough to put us through to the next round." There Leonid Slutski's charges will will face either FC Porto or Sevilla FC, with the Portuguese outfit 2-1 to the good heading into Wednesday's second leg.
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