DAVID SMITH - Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Maurice Edu netted both goals - one for each team - as Rangers were held to a draw against Valencia while Jermaine Jones helped Schalke make a move towards the knockout round in their win over Hapoel Tel-Aviv.
Rangers FC 1 - 1 Valencia CF
Maurice Edu provided all the goals in Ibrox on Wednesday night, first putting Rangers ahead before knocking the ball into his team's own net minutes later as they played to a draw with Valencia in Group C action.
Edu was also shown a yellow card for a reckless foul on Valencia player Mehmet Topal midway through the second half, his first of this European campaign.
Even though the Gers have been entirely unbeatable this season in domestic play, Walter Smith's squad knew they were in for a tough fight against a Valencia team which had held top spot in the La Liga standings up until their close loss to Barcelona over the weekend.
True to form, the Spaniards came out on the offensive and nearly took the lead after two minutes when a careless giveaway by Steven Whittaker allowed Pablo Hernandez a long crack at goal which forced keeper Allan McGregor into early action.
Steven Naismith could have done better with his shot in the 18th minute when he was beautifully set up with a through ball by Kenny Miller, aiming his blast directly at Valencia keeper César who had no problems with the easy save.
Despite being set up by Smith with a five-man defense which had previously stifled Manchester United in their first outing, Rangers nevertheless were able to assert significant pressure as the half wore on, and put themselves ahead in the 34th minute.
With the hosts' pressure paying off in the form of a corner, Edu broke free of his marking defender and rounded towards the far post, where he leaped skyward and impressively headed in Vladimir Weiss's kick, despite taking a fist to the face from the keeper as he made a failed attempt punch the ball to safety.
Edu nearly made it a pair with three minutes left in the half when a screamer of a long-range shot bounced off the post, with Miller's followup well over the crossbar.
The hosts were made to rue this missed opportunity just seconds after the second-half restart as Edu again leapt high to head a set piece into the net, however much to the dismay of the fans in blue, the free kick came off the foot of Valencia player Tino Costa, with his header flying past the diving McGregor and into his own net to pull the Spanish team back on even footing.
While Valencia had a better grip on the game after their bit of fortune, Rangers nevertheless still threatened, with a cheeky chip from Steven Davis nearly getting over the head of Cesar just past the hour mark, then another lob by Davis to Naismith again forcing the Spanish keeper into action with eight minutes left in the game.
Both teams held their ground in the end, with a final push by the visitors thwarted by kamikaze-style defense in the final seconds the last action before the referee's whistle.
With their share of the spoils in the bag, Rangers keep their slight grip on second place of Group C, now points behind Manchester United and one ahead of Valencia. They will face a tough trip to Spain in two weeks in what could very well be the decisive game in their quest to beat the Spaniards to the knockout round.
In the meantime, they return their gaze to domestic action, with the first installment of this season's Old Firm clash awaiting on Sunday afternoon when they visit arch rivals Celtic.
FC Schalke 04 3 - 1 Hapoel Tel Aviv
Jermaine Jones resumed his starting spot at the base of Schalke's midfield, playing the first 75 minutes as the Königsblauen hit the ground running and never looked back in their strong win at home over Hapeol Tel Aviv.
Having seemingly shaken off their disappointing draw over the weekend against last-place Stuttgart, Schalke hit quick as lightening, putting their stamp on the game in just the third minute.
With his lone goal through the first eight league games giving way to increasing worries of marquee signing Raul turning out to be a major flop, the Spanish legend reminded fans of why he is undisputed leading marksman in the Champions League.
Jose Jurado fired a pass from just outside the center circle towards Klaas Jan Huntelaar, which the Dutchman let pass untouched through his legs to the sprinting Raul, who was lethal with his shot from just inside the penalty area to the lower right of Vincent Enyeama's goal.
Huntelaar continued to show the dominant play which has been the lone bright point in Schalke's disastrous domestic season, taking the Hapoel defense apart, yet hugely unlucky to be denied in front of goal on numerous occasions.
Schalke were nevertheless the clear aggressors, and doubled the lead after 58 minutes, again with Raul doing the honors. A quick give-and-go between Ivan Rakitic and Huntelaar kept the defense as the former Real Madrid frontman snuck into the middle, with the final pass from Rakitic perfectly placed to his right foot for the stylish goal.
Rakitic again played provider ten minutes later, feeding Jurado at the edge of the area, with the Spanish midfielder launching a curling shot to the upper right corner for the 3-0 lead.
The Israeli champions did manage to save some face Etey Shechter slipped free of several defenders to put away a long free kick from Salim Toama in injury time, however it did little to sour the hosts' buoyant mood for perhaps their most impressive performance so far of the season.
With Lyon posting a 2-0 win over Benfica, the win gives Schalke sole possession of second place in Group B, with three points separating them from both first-place Lyon and third-place Benfica.
This effectively puts them in control of their own destiny in their push to make the final 16. They will travel to Tel-Aviv in two weeks to once again face Hapoel, however will shift focus first on domestic matters, with a Saturday afternoon trip to Eintracht Frankfurt looming followed three days later with a return trip to Germany's financial capitol to take on second-division FSV Frankfurt in German Cup play.
Oguchi Onyewu is not a part of AC Milan's squad for the group stage, and did not suit up for their 2-0 loss at Real Madrid on Tuesday night.