DAVID SMITH - Wednesday, November 26, 2014
Sacha Kljestan fell out of Anderlecht's starting lineup, but set up the team's second goal as a late sub, helping the team to a Champions League win over Galatasaray that secured third place in Group D.
While Anderlecht's hopes of catching up with Arsenal for the second place spot and a place in the final 16 of the Champions League was a miraculous longshot at best, Les Mauves et Blancs still had much on the line.
Every single appearance in the Champions League group stage beginning with the 2003-04 edition had seen the Belgian team end last place in their group - a stretch of six straight - and they were eager to finally break the spell even if it was only for the consolation of a third-place finish and chance at the Europa League knockout round.
Head coach Besnik Hasi opted for a young, yet highly talented lineup, fielding a team that with an average age in the early-20s, although with the veteran leadership of longtime keeper Silvio Proto at the rear.
His faith in youth paid off as a pair of 20 year-olds teamed up to put his team ahead just before the half.
A long cross from the left flank was headed on by Dennis Praet in the left side of the penalty area, and Congolese international Mangulu Mbemba was waiting at the top edge of the six-yard box with a dipping header to give his team the 1-0 lead in the 44th minute.
The hosts continued to push for more after the break, and were given an extra push with seven minutes left on the clock when Galatasaray veteran midfielder Inan Selcuk was shown a second yellow, leaving the visitors short-handed for the final minutes.
Kljestan entered the field for Praet moments later, and was almost immediately the catalyst for their insurance goal.
The American fired a long free kick to the lower right corner which forced keeper Fernando Muslera into a diving block. While the Uruguayan national team keeper did initially deflect the ball from its original trajectory, he pushed it across the six-yard box where Mbemba could alertly hit it over the line from an acute angle with a well-timed lunge.
The second goal quelled what little fight the visitors had previously, allowing Anderlecht to smoothly coast through to the final whistle.
While a win by Arsenal over Dortmund in the group's other game does end Anderlecht's hopes of reaching the knockout round, the win does secure third place in the group, ending many straight years of last-place finishes for the Belgian powerhouse.
They are now guaranteed a spot in the knockout round of the Europa League in early-2015, however they still have one more Champions League group game at Dortmund as well as a slew of league and domestic cup contests in the meantime.
They are back in action on Sunday afternoon when they host Brügge.