Celtic stumble against NK Maribor to fall out of Champions League

Celtic crashed out of Europe on Tuesday, falling to Maribor 1-0 on a late goal from Tavares to bow out 1-2 on aggregate. Tavares was gifted the shot on goal after Emilio Izaguirre and Charlie Mulgrew couldn’t clear the ball after a lofted cross — and then Efe Ambrose passed the ball right to him at the top of the box.

It was a dismal outcome for the proud Glasgow side, who now drop into the second-tier Europa League. But it was hardly undeserved on the run of play. Maribor looked far better than they had a week prior in Slovenia, and the atmosphere at Parkhead was always tense.

After a tame first half show from the hosts in which Maribor always looked like scoring, Ronny Deila threw Kris Commons on for Beram Kayal, and that did spark a 15 minute spell of pressure from the Scots. But when Callum McGregor hit the crossbar off the best move of the night for Celtic, you felt that their luck had finally run dry.

Jasmin Handanovic made a critical stop on Virgil Van Dijk at the near post in stoppage to keep the game from going to extra time — but if we’re honest, Celtic never looked as if they had the quality to play at the highest level in Europe. And now they won’t. The Slovenians move on to the group stage for only the second time in their history, and while they also look like cannon fodder, over two legs, it’s hard to say it was undeserved.

Porto rolled to a 2-0 win over Lille, to take the two-legged tie 3-0 on aggregate and also enter Thursday’s draw.  Yacine Brahimi scored a fabulous free kick to open the scoring, and Jackson Martinez buried the match with twenty to play with a fierce low drive. In truth Lille never looked in the match: they cannot score, cannot hold the ball, and made a lot of bad mistakes.

The game was actually settled just after the break, when Brahimi ripped a shot up and over the wall and into the top corner. Sebastien Corchia tried to drag Lille back into it, forcing Fabiano to make a fine save at the near post minutes later, but the French side paid for their lack of quality in midfield when they coughed the ball up to allow Jackson to run on to it, and easily slide the ball past Vincent Enyeama at the far post.

Hector Herrera had another fine outing for Porto tonight, picking up where he left off at the World Cup during Mexico’s run, and few teams will fancy playing this Porto side when the draw is made Thursday.

Earlier in Russia, even a silly pair of yellow cards on veteran Viktor Fayzulin, which reduced Zenit to 10-men with 50 minutes remaining, couldn’t make the match in St. Petersburg a contest as the Russian Premier League leaders coasted into the Champions League group stage on an 4-0 aggregate past Standard Liege. They won 3-0 on the night.

Having throughly dominated the first leg in Belgium, Zenit actually appeared over-confident as they bossed matters from the start, taking the lead on a Jose Rondon header from close range after a poor goalkeeper punch-away by Eiji Kawashima. Two goals in four minutes from Hulk, the first from a penalty, the second from a horrid halfway-line giveaway took the Belgians completely out of things after just 58 minutes, but which time it was hard to tell which side was playing short-handed.

Andre Villas Boas took his goal-scorer, Rondon, off at the interval, inserting Anatoliy Tymoshchuk to reinforce the defense and the move paid off handsomely, Danny and Hulk were still free to attack the Belgians at will as Zenit never was in trouble.

Elswhere, APOEL Nicosia are back in the group stage where they shocked the football world by reaching the quarterfinals two years ago. They demolished AaB Aalborg in Nicosia, winning 4-0 for a 5-1 triumph.

The Cypriots made things safe in the first 45 minutes, taking advantage of two AaB errors. First, Tomas DeVincenti got possession wide on the left and was able to lay his cross behind defenders who retreated past the ball, allowing Vinicius to calmly finish in the 29th minute. Just before the break, the Danes got it all wrong defending a corner on the right, no one marking DeVincenti at the far post as a simple chance fell his way. He didn’t miss in the 44th minute.

The home side did have their goalkeeper, Urko Pardo, to thank for being in such a strong position. His remarkable, one-handed save of a Thomas Enevoldsen point-blank header in the 35th minute may have changed the game. Caught going the wrong way, Pardo got back across his goal and out what would have been an equalizer and a perhaps vital away goal.

Substitute Stathis Aloneftis took any remaining drama out of the match when he chested down a long cross on the 18, turned and fired in APOEL’s third with 26 minutes left. He had only been on the field three minutes. Cillian Sheridan, one of the most influential APOEL players on the night, got the fourth with a fine 75th minute strike.

BATE Borisov is in the group stage for the fifth time, but they made it harder than necessary before winning 3-0 (4-1 aggregate) against a punchless Slovan Bratislava side that got little accomplished over the two legs. Sergei Krivets and Vitali Rodionov scored in the 84th and 85th minute to make the scoreline look more like the tie had been, finally snuffing out any late Slovan hopes of forcing extra time.

BATE Borisov was on top from the start in their new arena but the only goal of the first half arrived late. Rodionov, who had missed the best chance of the half in the 14th minute and hit the crossbar before scoring in the second, brought down a 40-yard pass with one deft touch before spotting Mikhail Gordjechuk open on the left to put BATE on top 1-0 in the 42nd minute.

It took a remarkable double save by Sergei Chernik to deny Nicolas Gorosito an equalizer for Slovan in the 62nd minute as he met a corner with a fierce drive that was parried right back to him only for Chernik to somehow keep the second shot out. Slovan continued to chase the goal they needed but when Seydouba Soumah collected his second yellow card and therefore was sent off in the 80th minute, BATE had the cushion needed to ride out the night.