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Shakhter survive huge fright to earn play-off debut

KS Skënderbeu 3-2 FC Shakhter Karagandy (agg: 3-5)
The Kazakh side recovered from going three down in Albania to book a first ever appearance in the UEFA Champions League play-offs.

Shakhter's Aleksandar Simčević covers the run of Renato Arapi of Skënderbeu
Shakhter's Aleksandar Simčević covers the run of Renato Arapi of Skënderbeu ©Lysien Nurishmi

FC Shakhter Karagandy recovered from a remarkable early onslaught to secure a 5-3 aggregate success against KS Skënderbeu and book a first-ever appearance in the UEFA Champions League play-offs.

Already in uncharted territory as third qualifying round participants, the Kazakh champions' hopes of progress took a huge blow when their 3-0 first-leg advantage was cancelled out inside 29 minutes in Tirana thanks to Željko Tomić's strike and a pair of Blendi Shkembi penalties. However, Viktor Kumykov's men hit back through Sergei Khizhnichenko and Maksat Bayzhanov – with goals either side of half-time – to clinch a place in Friday's draw.

After dominating in Astana last week, Shakhter were immediately on the front foot against the Albanian title holders as Khizhnichenko burst into the area only to drill narrowly wide. Tomić just failed to nudge a cross over the line at the other end on six minutes, yet shortly afterwards did not make the same mistake – instead burying the ball from Nurudeen Orelesi's pass.

On 20 minutes Nikola Vasiljević brought down Pero Pejić in the visiting area and home skipper Shkembi did the rest from the spot, a trick he repeated nine minutes later after Sergiy Maliy had handled.

It appeared that Shakhter's play-off chances were slipping away against their own great expectations, but Khizhnichenko wrested back the initiative in the tie seven minutes before half-time when he headed in his third goal of qualifying from Aleksandar Simčević's cross.

Things then swung crucially in the visitors' favour when Pejić received a straight red card for a foul on Andrei Poryvaev nine minutes after the restart, and on 67 minutes Shakhter captain Andrei Finonchenko drove a lightning counterattack downfield, allowing Bayzhanov to finish with aplomb and ensure the Kazakhs' historic journey continues. No such luck for Mirel Joca's brave but beaten team.

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