DAVID SMITH - Thursday, August 9, 2012
Sacha Kljestan and Anderlecht beat up on defenseless Ekranas, while Bryan Gerzicich and Kiryat Shmona managed a draw in Baku, with both teams reaching the Champions League playoff round.
FK Ekranas 0 - 6 RSC Anderlecht (agg. 0-11)
Sacha Kljestan scored the first of six Anderlecht goals, as an early sending-off of Ekranas keeper Emilijus Zubas helped the Belgians storm through their second-leg encounter.
All pressure was off Anderlecht thanks to their five-goal advantage from the first leg, but they showed their teeth early an often against their completely overpowered Lithuanian foes.
Kljestan was the first to strike in the ninth minute, taking advantage of Ekranas keeper Emilijus Zubas's inability to deal with a cross by Guillaume Gillet, with the ball landing directly at the American's feet for a tidy finish and the 1-0 lead.
Zubas's evening went from bad to worse in the 25th minute when he brought down Tom de Sutter in the penalty area, suffering the double-whammy of seeing his opponents awarded a spot kick and being sent off for the play.
Substitute keeper Tadas Kauneckas did well to save the ensuing attempt from the spot by Gillet, but was powerless just minutes later when Dennis Praet hit an unreachable strike from the edge of the penalty area for 2-0.
Kauneckas was at fault for Anderlecht's third at the stroke of the half, failing to deal with a cross and allowing Oleksandr Jakovenko an easy tap-in, and saw his night worsen two minutes after the break as Jakovenko set up de Sutter for a simple strike.
Already leading by a total aggregate score of nine goals, a 62nd minute strike by Guillermo Molins and another by Fernando three minutes before time completed the rout in cruel fashion.
Having won the series with an incredible 11-0 aggregate scoreline, Anderlecht are two games away from a group stage berth, and will find out their opponent for the playoff round with Friday afternoon's draw.
The playoff round is set to begin in three weeks, allowing them to try to gain steam in their domestic campaign, beginning with a trip to Cercle Brugge on Sunday evening.
Neftchi Baku 2 - 2 Ironi Kiryat Shmona (agg. 2-6)
Bryan Gerzicich and Ironi Kiryat Shmona had little problem to secure their spot in the Champions League playoff round later this month, with a draw at Baku more than enough to see them through.
Looking to save some face after the heavy first-leg loss, Baku put up a good fight, pushed hard from the beginning, and took the lead in the 31st minute thanks to a fine curling free kick from Julius Woobay.
Shmona pulled even on the night five minutes after the break, with Adrian Rochet setting up Barak Badash inside the box for a close-range strike.
With 14 minutes in regulation, the hosts regained the advantage with Javid Imamverdiyev heading home a fine cross from Woobay, however Hungarian striker Laszlo Lencse showed his dangerous side, streaking downfield and beating keeper Saša Stamenković for a 90th-minute equalizer, giving Shmona an overall 6-2 aggregate win.
With the start of their domestic season still more than three weeks away, Gerzicich and his teammates will be able to focus on the upcoming playoff round, with their opponent to be determined on Friday afternoon.
Josh Gatt is still recovering from injury, and was not in tow on Wednesday night as Molde fell out of Champions League qualification with a 1-1 draw at Basel. Combined with a 1-0 victory by the Swiss team in Norway last week, Molde are eliminated from the competition, but will enter the final play-off round of Europa League qualifying.