DAVID SMITH - Friday, March 18, 2011
The number of Americans left in European competition was whittled down to one as Oguchi Onyewu and Twente held on to win their series against Zenit while Maurice Edu and Rangers crashed out against PSV.
Glasgow Rangers 0 - 1 PSV Eindhoven (agg. 0-1)
Maurice Edu played the full 90 minutes for Rangers on Thursday evening, as they saw their hopes for an extended Europa League run end with a loss at home to Dutch leaders PSV Eindhoven.
Rangers played saw their usual European gameplan work perfectly in the first leg between these two teams in Eindhoven, putting in a stifling defensive performance with little creativity on the front end to send the teams to Glasgow with a scoreless aggregate.
Their own inability to nick an away goal in the first leg did put Walter Smith's squad in a precarious position since any sort of score by their Dutch opponents would require the reigning Scottish Champions to do something they had only done once through nine European matches so far this season - put the ball in the net multiple times.
They saw this worst case scenario come to pass just 14 minutes into the game when Hungarian international Balazs Dzsudzsak cut in from the left side into the penalty area and hit a cross in front of goal which Jermain Lens had no problem to knock in from four yards.
Rangers stuck to their plan, and saw their best chance to equalize come just before the hour mark. A minor error by a PSV defender allowed Steven Whittaker to flick the ball forward from the edge of the area where Edu had gotten just behind the defense, however he connected poorly with the ball from eight yards out and saw his shot easily blocked by keeper Andreas Isaksson.
A corner barely one minute later saw the ball hit the bar twice in rapid succession then cleared off the line by the Eindhoven defense in a sequence which ended with several Rangers players appealing for what they feel had been a hand ball by Canadian midfielder Atiba Hutchinson.
Dzsudzsak came close to adding a second for the visitors with eight minutes left, but his excellent 22-yard strike was denied by the upright, with the 1-0 score in favor of the Dutch team holding in the end.
Walter Smith's squad has little time to regroup as they face their arch-rivals Celtic on Sunday in the Scottish League Cup final, and afterwards must focus on regaining top spot in league play with just 11 games left on the schedule.
Zenit St. Petersburg 2 - 0 FC Twente (agg. 2-3)
Oguchi Onyewu and Twente regrouped after a first-half scare in St. Petersburg, barely holding on to the aggregate scoreline to pave their way into the Europa League quarterfinals.
The American played the full 90 minutes in the team's central defense, once again occupying his natural position after spending several game filling in at left back.
The Zenit squad was hit by tragedy in the hours before kickoff when long-time starting keeper Vyacheslav Malafeev lost his wife in a car crash the morning of the game, giving added emotion to the crowd in support of the iconic one-club man.
The hosts came out of the gates firing on full cylinders, however Twente had the first close call just past the five minute mark when Nacer Chadli's low shot from the left side rolled inches wide of the far post.
Zenit clawed one back in the aggregate in the 16th minute when Portuguese midfielder Danny popped a fine ball forward towards goal to Roman Shirokov, whose first shot hit the post, but was quick to pounce on the rebound to put it away.
They pulled to within one goal of evening the aggregate 20 minutes later after Twente was unable to clear the ball away from goal, with Aleksandr Kerzhakov finally smacking it from the edge of the six-yard box.
With Zenit suddenly looking headed for an unlikely comeback, Twente battened down the hatches and kept the game under wraps for much of the remainder.
Onyewu had a prime chance to put the game out of reach with 20 minutes left when he broke free in a rare attacking position to aim a diving header at goal, but backup keeper Yuri Zhevnov was up to the task to block it over the bar for a corner.
The Russians had lost momentum amidst the tightened Twente defense and hardly threatened goal through the remainder, with the referee's final whistle confirming the passage of the Dutch champions to the final eight.
Twente face a visit to relegation-bound Excelsior Rotterdam on Sunday afternoon in Onyewu's last-warmup before heading across the Atlantic for international duty.