Astana rescue last-gasp Champions League draw against Galatasaray

Courageous FC Astana came back from near disaster when Roger Canas — with help from Lionel Carole’s boot – scored an unexpected 89th-minute header from 18 yards to earn the Kazakh side a 2-2 Champions League Group C draw with Galatasaray on an historic Wednesday night in the Kazakhstan capital.

A horrific own goal mistake by goalkeeper Nenad Eric had apparently turned Astana joy to heartbreak in the 86th minute, but Canas would have none of it and produced a dramatic final strike. The teams scored twice in the final five minutes to roil the emotions of the 30,000 capacity crowd before they eventually shared the spoils.

With five minutes of normal time remaining when Eric flailed at Sinan Gumus’ cross from the left only to see the ball land behind him for the own goal it seemed that all the home town joy would evaporate. But his blushes were spared three minutes later when the erratic Turkish keeper Fernando Muslera punched away a cross from the left only for it to create the flying header chance from 18 yards that Canas headed toward the open net with Carole unable to do anything except stab it into his own net

The drama actually started with 13 minutes to play when Junior Kabananga made a decisive run and cross, then saw Hakan Balta divert his work into an own goal that allowed the newcomers to get even for the first time at 1-1 and set the stage for the finish.

Befote those late fireworks, Bilal Kisa’s 30th minute goal had looked enough for the visitors as the clocked ticked down the second half, but the Canas goal capped a memorable night for Astana. They were hosting the first-ever group stage match in their country and coach Stanimir Stoilov had admitted trying to shield his team from the heavy pressure of the occasion. 

There were signs of that pressure on the sometimes-uncertain home defense, but in the end Astana rose magnificently to the high expectations. 

Galatasaray, which has won just four away matches in 14 years of group stage appearances, wwill again rue missed opportunities to close out a match. For long stretches they looked comfortable but once Astana got back into the contest their pure energy seemed to be the difference.

UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE RESULTS

The first real chance came as early as the third minute when Eric had to save well from a Wesley Sneijder shot that was headed to the top left corner, then had to react again two minutes later as the hosts looked nervous in the early stages. Sneijder had another look in the 12th minute, but his open shot from the left flashed across the face of goal.

Astana  eventually settled a bit and moved the ball efficiently, if mostly laterally across their artificial surface. But they weren’t creating much in the way of real openings and fell behind on the half-hour when Kisa was given far too much room to line up his 35-yard shot from central midfield, the ball flashing past Eric to the near left corner.

Sneijder’s pass set up the strike, but it was the fact that three potential defenders all backed off of Kisa that opened the door for the swerving shot.

Astana tried to respond, but Eric was required to make a vital save to keep it 1-0 at the interval, beating away a shot from Lukas Podolski after a giveaway near center field gave the visitors a 2-on-1 breakaway counter.

Astana worked harder to get forward after the break, but luck wasn’t with them until the Kabananga-created own goal got them level.

They had an opportunity to get level in the 53rd minute when Baurzhan Jolchiyev collected from a mistake at the back, but his attempted cross was blocked in the box. Jolchiyev had an even better chance in the 64th minute but he could not direct a cross from the far left over the line when he beat a defender five yards out only to see his attempt slide past the far post with Muslera beaten. Next it was Foxi Kéthévoama who failed the punish a suddenly wide-open defense when he missed an open left corner from in front a minute later.

Finally, in the 78th minute when the home fans celebrated the equalizer when Kabananga won possession deep on the left and crossed, forcing the keeper to attempt to parry the cross away. Instead, the attempted save caught Hakan Balta in the shins and caromed over the line for the own goal.

That created the setting for the remarkable final minutes, first Galatasaray seeming to get a gift of victory, then Canas sending the home fans home delighted with a point.