MICHAEL HADLEY - Thursday, August 30, 2012
Four Americans emerged victorious in the Europa League playoff round, with one falling flat after a hot league start.
AZ Alkmaar 0 - 4 Anzhi
After a blazing start to the Eredivisie regular season, Jozy Altidore's club AZ ran into a Russian brick wall and were eliminated from the Europa League.
After a hard-fought 1-0 loss in Russia, Altidore and Co. were determined to make their home leg count. Just 17 minutes in, however, everything began to go horribly wrong.
Mbark Boussoufa jumped on a poor clearance from the AZ defense, firing to the upper corner of Esteban Alvarado's goal giving the Russians a 2-0 aggregate lead.
The real dagger came just before halftime when former Barcelona and Internazionale striker Samuel Eto'o beat two defenders in the penalty box before beating Alvarado, sending AZ into the locker room looking already defeated.
Altidore was given 15 minutes of second half action before being removed for Dutch striker Ruud Boymans, seeing only 60 minutes of action in front of his home fans.
But Anzhi weren't done at two. Lucina Traore took a page from Eto'o's book, this time beating three Dutch defenders and back-heeling himself a pass before slotting a shot around Alvarado in the 79th minute.
Four minutes later it was Mehdi Carcela-Gonzalez who stole a poor clearance from the AZ defense and dribbled down the field alone before scoring the game's fourth goal.
Truly despondent, the AZ defense were down enough to give up a goal in the fourth minute of second half added time. Shamil Lakhiyalov took a brilliant pass from Traore before racing down the left flank unencumbered, wrapping a shot around Alvarado to set the final score at 5-0.
With the 6-0 aggregate win, Anzhi will move on to the group stage, while AZ will lick their wounds back in Eredivisie play.
Heerenveen 1 - 2 Molde
Josh Gatt continued his impressive play in racked up an assist in Molde's round-clinching road victory.
Entering the game on a 2-0 aggregate lead, Gatt and Molde were content in the first half to play defensively, avoiding a quick start by Heerenveen.
The home club had their chances, including one halfway through the period that was cleared off the Molde line, but the Dutch couldn't seem to crack the Molde defense for anything more than a shot.
With the game scoreless heading into the second half, play opened up for both teams.
With Heerenveen pushing their defenders ever higher, they seemed more prone to the counter attack, something Gatt keyed in on. After stealing a pass at midfield, the American quickly turned to play Jo Berget behind the Heerenveen defense. The Norwegian sprinted down the field and beat Kristoffer Nordfeldt in the 54th minute earning Gatt an assist.
In the 73rd minute, things were beginning to look desperate for the Dutch club. Leaving his box to attempt to spur play forward, Nordfeldt parried a Molde pass too far from his feet. The speedy Pape Diouf was there for the visitors, pouncing on the freed ball and easily scoring on the abandoned net.
With a 4-0 aggregate advantage for Molde, Arsenio Valpoort's goal in the 90th+2 minute for Heerenveen was nothing more than a slight blemish as Molde easily took the playoff stage win.
The victory was the sixth straight across all competitions for Molde. Gatt played 74 minutes in the victory, and in addition to his assist, the American picked up a yellow card in the 49th minute.
Rosenborg 2 - 1 Legia Warsaw
Mix Diskerud played hero for Rosenborg Thursday, scoring a brilliant goal late in the second half.
Entering the match 1-1 on aggregate, both teams felt it necessary to be the first to score and Daniel Ljuboja of Legia Warsaw would be the first to crack the nylon in the match
Stealing the ball from a Rosenborg defender, Ljuboja accelerated down the left side and sent a worm-burner on frame. The shot was enough to get beyond the outstretched arm of Daniel Orlund, putting Warsaw ahead.
Rosenborg had their chances through the half, but the Warsaw defense proved too strong to be broken down.
In the second half, Ljuboja came inches away from putting his club up 2-0. After a soft touch to find space, the Serbian hit a knuckling ball towards the goal, and with Orlund frozen by the movement, Ljuboja's shot stayed just inches too high, caroming off of the cross bar and over for a goal kick.
It would take two acts of classy soccer for Rosenborg to emerge victorious.
The first came in the 69th minute when Tore Reginiussen found space on a free kick from 24 yards out. The center back managed to get in front of his man, redirecting the ball on frame for the tying goal.
With each team scoring one home and one away goal, it appeared overtime would be needed to decide the winner. But American Diskerud didn't give up.
A Rosenborg cross came in from the right attacking side, but it was headed away by the Warsaw defense. Diskerud managed to judge the descent perfectly, volleying in a brutally hard shot from the top of the penalty box. The shot left Dusan Kuciak completely frozen and helpless to stop shot.
Diskerud would be subbed off in the 90th+2 minute, but his goal would stand as the game winner.
Hannover 96 5 - 1 Slask Wroclaw
Steve Cherundolo and Hannover 96 will ride a wave of Europa League success into the group stage after their crushing home defeat of Polish champions Slask Wroclaw.
After a 5-3 road victory, Cherundolo's club knew they would be facing a desperate Polish team with nothing to lose, needing a three-goal advantage to advance.
The Poles got a 10th minute goal, a classy header by Przemyslaw Kazmierczak from a Sebatian Mila corner, to put an early scare into the Germans.
But only ten minutes later, Tomasz Jodolowiec's American football tackle in the box was more than enough to see red and give Hannover a penalty kick. Mohammed Abdellaoue converted from the spot, putting 10-man Slask down 6-4 on aggregate with a tremendous mountain to climb.
The red card would clearly serve to be the game's turning point.
Szabolcs Huszti would put the game more than out of reach in the 35th minute. After lollipopping a self-pass over a Polish defender, Huszti used a cheeky chip to beat Marijan Kelemen from 14 yards.
In the second half, it was more of the same for Hannover. In the 68th minute, substitute Artur Sobiech took a beautiful pass from Konstantin Rauch on the left flank, somehow beating his defender who seemed content to be Sobiech's jacket.
Sobiech got his brace in the 85th minute, but the second was far more easy. Abdellaoue poked a centering pass that put the Polish born forward all alone at the top of the penalty box. He fired underneath a sprawling Kelemen to put Hannover up 4-1 with just under five minutes to play.
Not to be overshadowed, Huszti scored his own brace just three minutes later. Hiroki Sakai, who had replaced Cherundolo in the 70th minute, lofted a pass from the Slask touchline. Huszti was waiting for the pass alone at the six yard box and sent an easy header into the net.
Hannover completed the leg on a 5-1 victory, defeating Slask 10-4 on aggregate. Their overall scoring record for this incarnation of the Europa League is 15-4 after defeating St. Patrick's 5-0 on aggregate in the third qualifying round.
As mentioned, Cherundolo played 70 minutes, and never faced much adversity as the visitors were keen to stay away from his right defensive flank for nearly the entirety of both matches.