Bilbao end Napoli's Champions League dream; Ludogorets win PK thriller
AUG 27, 2014 4:55p ET
Ludogorets Razgrad is in the UEFA Champions League group stage for the first time in its history after one of the more dramatic, remarkable finishes in qualification history after defeating Steaua Bucuresti 6-5 on penalties on Wednesday night.
Central defender Cosmin Moti was forced into goal when regular keeper Vladislav Stoyanov was red-carded in the 118th minute of the match. Moti, a former Dinamo Bucharest player, then scored once in the penalty shootout and saved two as the Bulgarian outsiders knocked off Steaua Bucuresti, not only a former European champion, but also an arch-rival of Moti's former team.
The decisive save came when Cornel Raja failed to get his spot kick far enough toward the left corner, allowing Moti to get his body behind it. He made the catch, then raced toward the Ludogorets fans, even climbing the fence in front of them to celebrate. Earlier, Moti had guessed correctly to stop Paul Pirvulescu, while the winners made all but one of their seven attempts to capture the tie-breaker 6-5.
Stoyanov was sent off for tripping Fernando Varela to prevent a breakaway scoring chance as an otherwise uneventful extra-time was winding down. Since Ludogorets had used their three substitutes a field player had to go between the posts. Moti, a Romanian international defender, picked up reserve keeper Ivan Cvorovic's shirt, pulled on the gloves and turned into an instant Bulgarian hero. There was drama before that, too.
A last-minute volley from Wanderson allowed Ludogorets to force the extra-time just as it appeared that Steaua would be going through thanks to their first leg 1-0 victory. Wanderson fastened onto a headed clearance off a corner and blasted home the equalizer which forced 30 additional minutes and also set the stage for the qualification story of the night.
Bilbao looked the better side for long stretches of the first half but fell behind quickly at the start of the second when Mikel Balenziaga weakly headed a clearance to Marek Hamsik for the Napoli man to drive home from outside the box in the 47th minute. Against the run of play, the Italians seemed suddenly in control but that didn't last thanks in part to their own defensive frailties.
Artiz Aduriz was completely unmarked at the far post to snap home from a 60th minute corner kick to level matters, then he put Athletic in front nine minutes later when he chased down an 80-yard clearance that defender Raul Albiol somehow managed to tap past his advancing goalkeeper, Rafa Cabral. Arduriz was left alone to stroke the ball into an open net.
The third Athletic goal was a truly strange one, Ibai Gomez collecting a ball at the top of the box as the Napoli defense stopped, apparently thinking Arduriz was offside. Replays showed he was, but he didn't play the ball and the referee ruled he was not interfering with play as Gomez collected and finished off the 4-2 aggregate win.
Bayer Leverkusen started the night with a one-goal advantage and needed only seven minutes to effectively take Copenhagen out of the contest. The gulf between the sides that was noticeable in the first leg was even more in view Wednesday as the Bundesliga side became the fourth German team to reach the group stage this year.
Son Heung-min made no mistake when sent in clean on the left by Stefan Kiessling, his shot across the face of goal nestling into the far corner just 72 seconds after the kickoff starting the rout. In the seventh minute, a Hakan Cahanoglu free kick from outside the box split the wall, caught a defender's head on the way through and made it 2-0 on the night.
Kiessling cracked home a 32nd minute penalty to put the match well beyond the Danes' reach then got his second with a fine individualistic goal in the 66th minute to make the final 4-0 on the night, 7-2 on aggregate.
And finally, Malmo overturned a first-leg deficit to see off Salzburg and book their place in the group stages.
The Austrians led 2-1 from last week, but were run off the park in a 3-0 defeat in Sweden. Markus Rosenberg had Malmo ahead on the night and via goal difference in just 11 minutes when he scored from the penalty spot after a rash challenge by Salzburg keeper Peter Gulasci brought down Magnus Eriksson at the top right of the box. Eriksson then gave the Swedes the overall advantage with a cracker of a volley from all of 28 yards in the 19th minute.
Salzburg pushed hard for a second half goal which would have meant extra time but Rosenberg finished off the Austrians with a neat goal in the 84th minute after Simon Kroon created the 2-on-1 break from near the halfway line. In the end, Salzburg paid full price for not cashing in a host of chances in the first leg and then gifting Malmo a goal in the final minute which proved very much a lifeline for the qualifiers.
FOXSoccer.com's newswire services contributed to this report.