DAVID SMITH - Thursday, August 2, 2012
Bryan Gerzicich and Sacha Kljestan both saw their respective teams take huge steps towards the next round of Champions League qualification with blowout first-leg wins on night.
RSC Anderlecht 5 - 0 FK Ekranas
Sacha Kljestan was a second half substitute for Anderlecht on Wednesday night, as they blew past their Lithuanian opposition Ekranas to take a five-goal advantage into next week's second leg.
Anderlecht struck early and often, with Tom de Sutter opening the scoring after just two minutes when he rose high to head in a cross from the right flank by Behrang Safari.
Then in the 21st minute, Kanu struck for the Belgian Champions' second goal, after a free kick from the right led to confusion in the box. Dieumerci Mbokani's initial shot was blocked off the line, but Kanu smashed the rebound high and well out of the reach of keeper Emilijus Zubas.
Four minutes before the half, Mbokani successfully netted his first of two on the evening with a shot from the center of the box that barely evaded Zubas' grasp, and added a second in the 53rd, finishing a counter-attack with a low, far-post strike from the left edge of the six-yard box.
Kljestan entered the game just past the hour in place of Kanu, and the team had one last round of fireworks to all but wrap up the aggregate win.
With three minutes to go, Milan Jovanovic was in perfect position directly in front of goal to turn in a short cross by Dennis Odoi from near the touchline for the fifth and final goal.
The win leaves little doubt that Anderlecht will go through to the next round as they need to simply avoid a historic collapse in the return leg next Wednesday Panevėžys. Beforehand, they will try to earn their first league win of the season when they host Berrschot AC on Saturday.
Ironi Kiryat Shmona 4 - 0 Neftchi Baku
Bryan Gerzicich netted a pair of second half goals for Ironi Kiryat Shmona, as a four-goal win over Neftchi Baku on Wednesday nearly guaranteed them their first-ever spot in European group-stage play.
The hosts needed just over 40 minutes to open the scoring, but thoroughly dominated from then on, leaving their guests rightly dumbfounded.
Barek Badash netted the first for Shmona in the 41st minute when he converted his low penalty from the spot after after Igor Mitreski tripped up El'ad Gabai just inside the area.
Seven minutes past the intermission, they added another from the foot of Shimon Abuhatzira, who ran onto a long ball from the midfield and one-timed his chip over Baku keeper Rauf Mehdiev.
With 20 minutes to go, Gerzicich put the team on safe ground with his first of two goals, slamming the ball home from the edge of the six-yard box after the Baku players were unable to clear out a corner.
Then six minutes later, the American-born defensive midfielder added the team's fourth, again opportunistically hitting from inside the area following an uncleared corner.
The teams will face off in the second leg in the Azerbaijani capitol on Thursday, with the hosts needing a miracle to avoid getting knocked out. The likely result of Shmona reaching the play-off round will put them within two games of the group stage, however even a loss in the play-off would assure them of an automatic spot in the Europa League group stage.
Josh Gatt was not in uniform on Wednesday evening due to injury, and missed ten-man Molde's 1-0 loss at home to FC Basel. They will head to Switzerland for the second leg on Wednesday, in the tough position of needing an outright win on the road to reach the playoff round.