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Skënderbeu strike late to end Neftçi resistance

KS Skënderbeu 1-0 Neftçi PFK (agg: 1 -0)
Nurudeen Orelesi's goal four minutes from the end of extra time finally broke the deadlock and ended the hopes of ten-man Neftçi.

Skënderbeu's Gilman Lika breaks through the Neftçi lines on Tuesday
Skënderbeu's Gilman Lika breaks through the Neftçi lines on Tuesday ©Lysien Nurishmi

Persistence paid off for Albanian title holders KS Skënderbeu as they overcame the resistance of Neftçi PFK with a goal deep into extra time by Nigerian midfielder Nurudeen Orelesi.

Including the first-leg stalemate in Baku, the two teams had played 205 goalless minutes until Orelesi met substitute Mario Morina's left-wing delivery with a superb shot that beat goalkeeper Saša Stamenković with 116 minutes on the clock. The strike put Skënderbeu into the UEFA Champions League third qualifying round for the first time, where their opponents will be Kazakhstan's FC Shakhter Karagandy.

It was a deserved win for Mirel Joca's side given their overall superiority against opponents reduced to ten men by Igor Mitreski's dismissal two minutes into stoppage time at the end of normal time.

Azerbaijani champions Neftçi had enjoyed the better of the first half and threatened a goal when Julius Wobay broke into the home penalty box and shot wide moments before the interval. Thereafter Skënderbeu gained the upper hand. Chances were scarce – striker Pero Pejić went close with a couple – but that changed as the end of normal time approached. Blendi Shkembi had a 20-metre effort repelled by Stamenković in the 88th minute and when the goalkeeper kept out the same player's free-kick, Leonit Abazi headed the rebound wide.

That came just after the 92nd-minute sending-off of Mitrevski after he brought down Shkembi as the home striker bore down on goal. Skënderbeu dominated extra time yet despite the best efforts of Stamenković, who saved superbly from Pejić's 94th-minute header, the hosts eventually got their reward.