RECAP: EUROPA LEAGUE ACTION
Oguchi Onyewu and Twente took a an icy step towards the Europa League round of 16 with a big win over Rubin Kazan, while Maurice Edu got the start for Rangers in their disappointing home draw against Sporting.
Rubin Kazan 0 - 2 FC Twente Enschede
Oguchi Onyewu and his Twente Enschede teammates braved the treacherous cold to post a strong 2-0 win over Russian opponents Rubin Kazan in Moscow on Thursday afternoon in a controversial game which both teams felt should have been postponed.
The game had been originally schedule in Rubin's Tsentralnyi Stadion, however the severe cold Russian winter forced the game to be moved 500 miles west to Moscow, to take advantage of the artificial turf at Spartak's Luzhniki Stadium.
Whether the game would be postponed was still in question just before kickoff, with UEFA finally determining that the well subfreezing temperatures on the field were still acceptable for the teams to play.
While both teams had troubles finding their footing in the cold for much of the game, Rubin began to show signs that their pre-season shape was still lacking compared to their Dutch counterparts well into the second half, and conceded the opening goal within the final quarter-hour of the game.
Nacer Chadli tried to poke a loose ball into Rubin's net in the 76th minute, however his shot was blocked over the line by Italian international defender Salvatore Bocchetti. On the ensuing corner, Luuk de Jong rose high to head the ball own just inside the left post for the late lead.
Twente further improved their chances with two minutes left in regulation on yet another corner; De Jong's back-heeled shot was blocked by keeper Nikolay Mihaylov, but the rebound went straight to team captain Peter Wisgerhof, who slammed home his point-blank shot to give his team the 2-0 road victory.
The win means that Twente simply need to avoid a total collapse in the return leg back in Enschede on Thursday to make the next round, where they will face either Young Boys or Zenit St. Petersburg, with the Swiss team currently holding a narrow 2-1 advantage over their Russian counterparts.
Glasgow Rangers - Sporting Lisbon
Maurice Edu went the distance for Rangers on Thursday evening, as they were able to hold their Portuguese visitors Sporting Lisbon scoreless for nearly the full game, but had victory snatched from their grip thanks to an 88th-minute goal from Matias Fermandez.
Rangers forward Kyle Lafferty came close with a header that flew just high in the 32nd minute, and nearly set up Steven Whittaker right after the second-half kickoff with a flick into the box which the Scottish international blasted towards goal forcing a diving save from Sporting keeper Rui Patrício.
Whittaker did successfully put the hosts ahead midway through the half when he headed in a corner from Vladimír Weiss, putting his team firmly in the driver's seat.
They held the slim lead for nearly the remainder of the game, but were undone on an late counter-attack by the visitors, with Mathias Fernández doing the damage in the 88th minute when he was left with too much space in front of goal by the defense to freely head in a cross from Joao Pereira.
The draw puts Rangers in a tough position heading into next week's return leg in Portugal, as they must manage a minimum of a scored draw to have any hope of heading to the round of 16, where they will face either PSV Eindhoven or Lille.
Sacha Kljestan was an unused substitute for Anderlecht on Thursday in the 3-0 loss in Brussels at the hand of Ajax Amsterdam. The loss puts Anderlecht in a nearly impossible position of needing a huge win in the return leg one week later in Amserdam if they have any notion of getting through to the next round.