DAVID SMITH - Friday, August 5, 2011
Clarence Goodson and Brøndby were knocked out of the Europa League in heartbreaking fashion, while Clint Dempsey made his return to Fulham's starting lineup as they secured an easy home victory over RNK Split.
Brøndby IF 4 - 2 SV Ried (agg. 4-4, Ried advance on away goals)
Clarence Goodson began his tenure as captain of Brøndby on a sour note, as they stormed to a four-goal lead but gave up a pair of second-half scores to see their Europa League dream come to a quick end.
Brøndby entered the game needing to make up a two-goal deficit from their loss in the first leg in Austria. Through the first 40 minutes, they were largely unable to break through to cut the aggregate deficit and looked headed to a likely exit from the competition, until a pair of strikes before the half and another two shortly after the restart had them seemingly set straight for the next round.
After receiving the ball from teammate Mikael Nilsson close to 30 yards straight out, Jan Kristiansen rocketed a shot to the lower left corner which left the Ried keeper befuddled and powerless to keep it from going over the line for the 40th-minute score.
They received a huge break on the stroke of half when Australian Brent McGrath was knocked over in the area by the clumsy Maximilian Karner, with Michael Krohn-Dehli doing the job from the spot to send Brøndby into the half with the series all tied up.
The Danish charge didn't slow down after the half as youngster Osama Akharraz put them ahead when he snuck in behind the defense and chested down a long pass from Thomas Rasmussen before hitting his left-footed shot inside the left post in the 53rd.
Akharraz wasn't finished, giving Brøndby a seemingly safe lead two minutes later, charging into the six-yard box at the perfect moment to hit in a short-range blast after McGrath provided him with a high headed set-up from the left edge.
The Austrians pulled a goal back in the 71st minute, as a long shot by Ried substitute Castro was blocked by Brøndby keeper Stephan Andersen, only to fall in front of the right foot of Daniel Royer, whose volley set up a nervous final 20 minutes.
The hosts' worst fears finally came to pass with two minutes left in the game, as a long goal kick from keeper Thomas Gebauer found its way into Brøndby's area, and a headed flick by Stefan Lexa put the ball in front of Anel Hadzic for a powerful shot which flew by Andersen to complete the come-back.
The final whistle blew shortly thereafter, confirming the final 4-4 aggregate score, with the Austrians going through by nature of their two away goals.
Brøndby must now regroup and concentrate on their Superliga season, which will see them pay a visit to Odense on Sunday.
Fulham 2 - 0 RNK Split (agg. 2-0)
Clint Dempsey made a successful return to Fulham's starting 11, playing the first 81 minutes as the inspired play of Andy Johnson carried them to a win over RNK Split and a place in the play-off round.
Heading into the game with the aggregate locked at zero apiece, Fulham applied much pressure in the early going and saw their efforts pay off in the 19th minute as Andrew Johnson slipped free of his marker at the near post and headed in a corner from Damien Duff.
Dempsey came close to making it 2-0 in the 29th minute as he beat a pair of defenders curled a shot from the edge of the area that went just wide right.
The Cottagers were ultimately unable to increase their lead before the halftime break and were almost made to suffer, as a fantastic 30-yard free kick from Ante Vitaic in the 49th minute dropped in just behind the wall however curled barely right of the target.
Johnson continued his inspired performance, storming into the right side of the area in the 55th minute before being cut down by a clumsy challenge from Velimir Vidic, sending Danny Murphy to the spot to make it 2-0 for the hosts.
Five minutes later, Split nearly pulled one back as a near-post flick by Goran Milovic off of a Ante Erceg free kick bounced off the woodwork.
Fulham did manage to hold on with few problems, with the shut-out win sending them through to the next round.
Dempsey and his teammates will face Ukrainian team FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk in the final play-off round starting on August 18, however will first begin their Premier League season on Saturday afternoon with a visit from Aston Villa.
Jozy Altidore was not selected for AZ Alkmaar's final gameday roster and watched from the stands as they secured advancement to the final play-off round of qualification with a 1-1 draw at Czech team Jablonec, giving them an overall 3-1 aggregate win. Altidore could make his debut for AZ on Sunday afternoon when they host PSV Eindhoven to open the 2011-12 Eredivisie season.