Champions League Review 19th-20th August: British Duo Take Step Closer To Group Stage
With just ten places up for grabs in Europe’s elite competition, the Champions League play-off round is a truly intense affair and the 20 teams involved will all be equally desperate to secure their spot in the highly desired group stage.
British fans have plenty of interest in the play-offs too as Arsenal and Celtic bid to reach the 2014/15 competition. The pair both faced tricky away matches before returning home for next week’s pivotal home legs.
Here’s how things stand at the halfway point in these key battles:
Besiktas 0-0 Arsenal
Arsenal’s trip to Istanbul may have turned out slightly more difficult than anticipated but a 0-0 stalemate is still a fairly decent result and Arsene Wenger’s men will be confident as they look to complete the job at the Emirates next Wednesday.
This was Arsenal’s 13th Champions League qualifier and it is the first game that they’ve failed to win in 90 minutes. Nevertheless, an away draw keeps them in firm control of this contest and progression to the main competition for a 17th successive year looks virtually guaranteed.
However, they will have to manage without key man Aaron Ramsey. The Welshman received his marching orders for two bookable offences, both for shirt pulling, and will now have to sit out of that crucial return in London.
Whilst drawing in Turkey doesn’t pose a real problem to the Gunners, the lack of an away goal potentially could and if Besiktas can take the lead then it will suddenly become a very different match at the Emirates.
Nevertheless, Arsenal should have far too match quality for the Turks and they should join fellow Premier League sides Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City in the group stage.
Maribor 1-1 Celtic
The SPL champions can consider themselves extremely fortunate to still be in the competition following the Legia Warsaw fiasco during the previous round, but Ronny Deila’s men are now just 90 minutes away from securing their place in the lucrative group stage.
Celtic had been eliminated by the Poles with a resounding 6-1 aggregate scoreline only to be reinstated to the competition after Legia were thrown out for fielding an ineligible player. Ronny Deila had confessed a slight embarrassment at being back in the competition but the Hoops will be determined to make the most of this good fortune.
The fact they were drawn against Slovenian side Maribor was another stroke of luck and the Scottish champions entered this play-off as the strong favourites; that hasn’t changed after Wednesday’s first meeting.
It took emerging youngster Calum McGregor just eight minutes to open the scoring with his third goal in this season’s qualification and that away goal could be crucial during next week’s reverse match at Celtic Park. The hosts did pull level pretty much immediately as Damjan Bohar converted well on the quarter-hour mark.
That’s how the score remained for the remaining 75 minutes and both sides will take some positives from that result. However, with home advantage still to come, Celtic will be the huge favourites as a win on the night will see them through.
The main threat to the Hoops is the possibility of Maribor scoring twice as that would swing the balance into the away side’s favour. Although Legia’s win in Scotland was ultimately rendered redundant, the Slovenians will take inspiration from that result also.
However, with Celtic returning to Glasgow instead of Edinburgh, a place in the group stage is well within the grasp of Deila’s men and they should join Arsenal in the last 32.
Champions League Play-Off First-Leg Results:
Aalborg 1-1 APOEL Nicosia
Besiktas 0-0 ARSENAL
FC Copenhagen 2-3 Bayer Leverkusen
Lille 0-1 Porto
Maribor 1-1 CELTIC
Napoli 1-1 Athletic Bilbao
Red Bull Salzburg 2-1 Malmo
Slovan Bratislava 1-1 BATE Borisov
Standard Liege 0-1 Zenit St Petersburg
Steaua Bucharest 1-0 Ludogorets Razgrad