RECAP: EUROPA LEAGUE ACTION
Maurice Edu put Rangers through to the Europa League round of 16 with a heroic last-minute goal while Oguchi Onyewu and Twente shook off a poor start to fight past Russian team Rubin Kazan.
Sporting Lisbon 2 - 2 Glasgow Rangers (agg. 3-3 - Rangers advance on away goals)
Maurice Edu ensured Rangers would pass through to the next round of the Europa League on Thursday night, sending a short left-footed shot into goal at the death to give the Glasgow club the advantage over Sporting Lisbon on away goals.
The American midfielder also picked up his first yellow card of the knockout round in the 58th minute for a foul on Sporting defender Abel.
The 1-1 draw between the two teams one week before at Ibrox put the pressure on Walter Smith's team to nick an away goal of their own in order to cancel out Sporting's late tally in the first leg. The experienced coach still took his usual tack of packing the midfield with five players, putting Edu in a central midfield trio alongside David Weir and Steven Whittaker.
While Sporting tested their resolve early, they nevertheless went ahead after 20 minutes with a quick punch to the gut of their hosts. A pass from Richard Foster up the right flank reached Steven Davis in stride, who sent a cross over to the far post which El Hadji Diouf headed in to put Rangers in the driver's seat.
Sporting were still confident of pulling the game out for the home fans and pressed for the remainder of the half until they pulled even three minutes before the break.
A moment of indecision by Weir leading to a failed clearance out of the box saw the ball land at the feet of Helder Postiga, who quickly found former Rangers favorite Pedro Mendes at the edge of the 18-yard box for a curler just inside the lower right corner.
Sporting looked to have a renewed fire under their seats following the break and were unlucky on several occasions to not jump into the lead, however looked to have wrapped up their place in the final 16 with seven minutes left in regulation.
Sasa Papac lost the ball near the endline, allowing Joao Pereira to recover and send a cross across goal which Yanick Djalo headed in to put Sporting ahead.
With the final seconds ticking down to an early elimination from European play, a last push by Rangers in injury time broke the hearts of the Sporting faithful and moved the team one step closer to repeating their final run of 2008.
Late substitute David Healy raced into the right side of the box and sent a cross towards goal where a quartet of his teammates were running into position, and Edu managed to stay onside just long enough to reach in and poke his shot over the line, thereby equalizing the score at two goals apiece but giving Rangers the final advantage on away goals.
Rangers now have the tough task of dealing with Dutch leaders PSV Eindhoven in the next round, with the away leg to be played on March 10 and the return at Ibrox one week later.
In the meantime, they will try to catch up to arch-rivals Celtic in their bid for a third straight Scottish Premier League title when they host St. Johnstone on Sunday.
FC Twente Enschede 2 - 2 Rubin Kazan (agg. 4-2)
Oguchi Onyewu went the full 90 minutes at right back once again for Twente as they weathered a quick start from their Russian opposition Rubin Kazan to pass successfully to the next knockout round for a return trip to Russia to face 2008 winners Zenit.
The Reds came into the game holding not only a 2-0 advantage, but a pair of important away goals scored on Russian soil, making Thursday's game seem almost a mere formality before fans could start searching for cheap fares to St. Petersburg in two weeks.
A pair of rapid-fire goals by Rubin midway through the first half to cancel their advantage had the night looking headed for a disaster, however, they recovered to score a pair on either side of the halftime break to assure the positive outcome.
Cristian Ansaldi brought the Russians to within one on aggregate in the 22nd minute when he collected a pss from CÚsar Navas at the corner of the area and swerved a shot that went just inside the lower left corner of Nikolay Mihaylov's goal.
They needed just two minutes to grab their second and bring the series on level terms, this time with Christian Noboa doing all the work to slip between two defenders and unleash a rocket to the upper left corner.
Shocked by the sudden turn of events, Twente quickly put a lid on their visitors, and slowly turned the game in their favor.
Theo Janssen got their first of the evening and gave them a lead on aggregate in first-half injury time, nailing a 30-yard laser of a shot to the lower right to send both teams into halftime.
Momentum stayed on the hosts' side after the restart, with another quick strike effectively securing their success.
Brazilian defender Douglas evaded his marker on a corner from Janssen in the 47th minute, and made no mistake to head the ball into the net, bringing the evening's score to two goals each, and putting Twente ahead by a combined 4-2 mark over both legs.
Kazan clearly saw that their chance for a glorious comeback had already passed, and were unable to give any signs of fighting back over the course of the second half, ultimately seeing their hosts in smiles after the referee's final whistle.
Twente will face their second straight Russian opposition in the final 16, hosting Zenit St. Petersburg on March 10 then heading eastwards one week later. They will first try to catch up to PSV Eindhoven for the Eredivisie lead, beginning with a tough trip to AZ Alkmaar on Sunday.
Sacha Kljestan was an unused substitute for Anderlecht on Thursday evening as they bowed out of European competition with a 2-0 loss at Ajax Amsterdam. The score gave the Dutch team a 5-0 aggregate win and a date with Spartak Moscow in the next round.