Valencia, Shakhtar win 1st legs in Champions League playoffs

BY foxsports • August 19, 2015

Valencia is close to completing its return to the Champions League after beating Monaco 3-1 Wednesday in their first leg playoff on a night full of late goals by teams fighting to reach the lucrative group stage of Europe's top club competition.

Sofiane Feghouli led two-time former finalist Valencia by assisting Rodrigo Moreno's opener and netting a third goal with four minutes to play to put his Spanish team in a strong position to advance.

Shakhtar Donetsk, meanwhile, eased to a 1-0 win at Rapid Vienna, thanks to Marlos' goal just before halftime.

But the night's other three matches all had thrilling finishes that kept their ties poised for next week's second leg matches.

Celtic ended with a 3-2 win over Swedish side Malmo after squandering a two-goal lead and letting Jo Inge Berget score twice, including a second goal late in injury time for the visitors. Leigh Griffiths got a brace for the Scottish hosts, including a 3rd-minute opener.

Dinamo Zagreb enjoyed a stoppage-time goal from Josip Pivaric to complete its 2-1 comeback at Albania's Skenderbeu whose captain Blendi Shkembi put his team ahead in the 37th before El Arbi Soudani equalized in the 66th.

And Maccabi Tel Aviv's Eran Zahavi netted his second of two goals six minutes into added time to snatch a 2-2 draw at Basel, which lost Marc Janko to an apparent leg injury early. Breel Embolo had put Basel ahead 2-1 as late as the 88th.

Once a regular, Valencia hasn't played in the Champions League for the past two seasons, and new owner Peter Lim charged his team with the goal of qualifying for the lucrative competition.

The side coached by Nuno Espirito Santo is now 90 minutes away from meeting its goal.

''We started strong, but it was normal that after 15 to 20 minutes we couldn't keep up the pace,'' Feghouli said. ''But we controlled the match and we should feel confident for the return leg.''

Valencia can also feel good about the promising debut of Australia goalkeeper Matthew Ryan, who made two key saves.

Feghouli pushed the attack from the right flank and slipped behind his defender to head Ricardo de Paul's cross back for two unmarked teammates waiting in the goalmouth. Moreno beat Paco Alcacer to the ball to tap it home for the fourth-minute opener.

Valencia was without center back Nicolas Otamendi and replacement Ruben Vezo's clumsy clearance cost the hosts the lead.

Mario Pasalic leveled in the 49th when an off-balanced Vezo left Anthony Martial's cross for Pasalic to fire in.

But with Monaco pressing, Dani Parejo volleyed in a cross knocked down by substitute Pablo Piatti to make it 2-1.

Feghouli then blasted a rebound through a crowded area in the 86th to give Valencia a wider margin to defend.

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