DAVID SMITH - Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Sacha Kljestan was on-target with an early goal in his European debut with Anderlecht, while Dominic Cervi watched from the bench as Celtic were torched by Braga in Champions League qualifying action.
The New Saints 1 - 3 Anderlecht
Sacha Kljestan needed only seven minutes to open his European scoring account as Anderlecht cruised to a 3-1 win over The New Saints in their first leg of Champions League third-round qualifying on Tuesday night.
Fresh off their win in the Belgian Supercup, there was little question as to whether Anderlecht was up to the task of winning the first leg away from home, and they needed only minutes to put to rest any hope of a heroic upset by the Welsh champions.
After a flurry of early chances by the Belgian team, Kljestan put them on the scoreboard in the seventh minute when he collected a cross from Matias Suarez that had barely missed the head of teammate Jonathan Legear, and calmly struck it past TNS keeper Paul Harrison for the lead.
The team seemed well on their way to a blowout win when a shot by Legear careened off the woodwork and well over the line to give Anderlecht the 2-0 lead 11 minutes later.
Not wanting to be humiliated in front of the home supporters, the Saints buckled down and kept a lid on things through the remainder of the half, and managed to pull a goal back seven minutes after the break.
TNS midfielder Scott Ruscoe aimed a dangerous cross into the box, which Craig Jones controlled and aimed it just inside the right post to bring the team back within one goal.
Any hopes of a Saints come-back to even matter were relatively short lived, as Legear and Suarez teamed up for one final nail in the coffin, with the long-time Anderlecht player Legear sending a free kick into the area for the Argentine to head home for the final 3-1 scoreline.
Barring a collapse that would have even the Los Angeles Galaxy left with their mouth agape, the win puts Anderlecht in almost certain position to move onto the final playoff round of Champions League qualification.
Kljestan will hope to be back on the field on Saturday evening when Anderlecht open their domestic season against newly-promoted K.A.S. Eupen, and will get another crack at The New Saints three days later when the Welsh team visit Constant Vanden Stock Stadium for the home leg of qualifying.
Dominic Cervi served as Celtic's backup keeper as the Scottish team all but assured an early exit from the Champions League with a humiliating 3-0 first-leg loss in Braga on Wednesday night, in a game which will surely hasten the team's search for a new starting man between the goal posts to replace the underperforming Łukasz Załuska.