KLJESTAN GOAL LIFTS ANDERLECHT
On a chilly evening in Brussels, Royal Sporting Club Anderlecht turned the heat up on Lokomotiv Moscow as five different players scored in the 5-3 win.
In a game that would determine who would win Group L, thereby avoiding a possible next round clash with one of the Manchesters, Moscow was required to do one better in the goal department than Anderlecht did in the Russian capital, when they won 2-0.
It took only four minutes for les Mauves to get their first sniff at goal when Fernando fed Guillaume Gillet in the box and saw the Belgian swat a sweet shot that Anton Amelchenko between the Russian sticks had to turn into a circus performer to punch away. The ball didn't stay gone long however as on the ensuing corner kick Matias Suarez struck hard and true only to see his top shelf effort saved before it crossed the line.
The peppering of the Russian goal would continue as Fernando stuck a minute later but nothing that troubled the keeper.
Just ten minutes in and the Railwaymen, who had been out-played thus far resorted to falling over tactics as the young Brazilian Fernando made a challenge against Andrei Ivanov and the Russian crumbled to the ground. Croatian referee Ivan Bebek took out his yellow card and flashed it at the Brazilian, to the bemusement of the crowd.
As a matter of fact, the clock struck 15 minutes before the Railwaymen were able to breach the Belgian defense and get their first shot at goal, which Maicon did from just left of the goal. Silvio Proto had no trouble scooping it up however.
Dominating possession does not always lead to goals and vice-versa, as Ariel Jacobs men found out when in the 21st minute they found themselves behind. After a Russian corner kick the ball was cleared out of the box but immediately sent forward again. Vladislav Ignatyev raced after it along with the left back Behrang Safari. The Russian got there first and fired past Proto for the lead.
Anderlecht continued to get the lion's share of the ball and there was some nifty passing between Fernando and Kljestan up the right wing. The one-two passing led to a throw-in that was delivered into the box and could have at least resulted in testing the keeper but Suarez swung his Argentinean leg and missed the ball completely.
Lokomotiv's big Brazilian broke free up the right side and just before entering the box Cheikhou Kouyate stuck in a challenging leg and sent Maicon flying. The ensuing free kick was not able to penetrate the purple wall however.
The game continued to become even more physical as just before the half hour mark Andre Ivanov brought down Suarez when he pushed the ball past the Russian and got an NFL style stiff arm in the face. Referee Bebek was the only one who didn't see it as a foul and waved play on.
Thirty three minutes in and American midfielder Kljestan put les Mauves level when he struck goal. Safari was able to whip a cross into the box but Slovak international Jan Durica out-jumped Milan Jovanovic and headed away. The ball only made it as far as the California boy at the top left of the 18 yard box however and he pulled the trigger and watched it hit the inside far net past the flailing Ameichenko.
A half dozen minutes later Anderlecht found themselves ahead when a ball into the box was deflected and fell into the path of Fernando. The teen rounded a defender and shot past the Lokomotiv number one.
The visitors could have leveled things again when minutes before the intermission they were awarded a free kick to the left of the 18 yard box. As the ball came into the box it eluded everybody except for Aleksandr Minchenkov who found it at his feet about seven yards out but the excitement got the better of him and he hit it wide of the near post.
The second half saw Jovanovic blow a chance after just a couple of minutes when Fernando slid the ball to him and he took a page out of Minchenkov's book and whacked his effort wide.
Kljestan was all over the field it seemed, as he helped the defense and also came forward for scoring opportunities. In one instance at the 50 minute mark he picked the pocket of Maicon and delivered the ball to his attackers who on this occasion were unable to bear down on goal.
This wasn't the case seven minutes later however when Lukas Marecek took a free kick and delivered it close to the advancing keeper who could not jump high enough. The ball fell to Suarez at the far post and the striker pushed it to Marcin Wasilewski who couldn't miss from the short distance.
And it happened again minutes later. Jovanovic and Fernando worked the ball up the side of the field with the youngster holding it wide before finding the Serbian, who centered it in the box right onto the head of Suarez. Amalchenko dove but had no chance of making a save.
The invading Russians pulled one back after Kouyate brought down a Moscovite in the box thus surrendering a penalty kick. Having come on in the second half, Dmitri Sychev placed the ball down and sent Proto the wrong way to cut the Belgian's lead in half.
Oguchi Onyewu's former team mate at Standard Liege, Dieumerci Mbokani came on just after 70 minutes and immediately got involved in the action as he raced up the right wing with his other ex-Liege team mate, Jovanovic. An ensuing pass to Lukas Marecek saw the Czech youngster pull the trigger only to see his shot saved by the near post.
After a Proto save off of a Russian free kick, the Belgian team raced down the field and as Mbokani tried to get past Amelchenko, the shot stopper met him just inside the 18 yard box and deflected the ball away. It only made it as far as the oncoming Guillaume Gillet however who struck and scored from distance.
Although time was running out and Anderlecht had all but won the game, the visitors had no intentions of rolling over. A minute before full time Sychev picked the pocket of the adversaries and played it out to Magomed Ozdoev on the wing. The midfielder fed the ball back and from six yards out Sychev hit the back of the net for the second time on the night.
The Croatian referee blew for full time soon after and Anderlecht completed their perfect group stage of six games with the maximum 18 points.
Kljestan spoke to Yanks Abroad after the game about how he felt the team performed and also about being able to get onto the score sheet.
"It's always good to score a goal and especially at that point in the game," the Seton Hall alumni said. "It was an important goal for the team to get us back on track (having conceded a goal already) and I think the club responded well to it."
The Americans goal was Anderlecht's 550th European goal in the club's history.
"Overall it was a good game for us. We knew they'd attack a lot and later on the game got sloppy since we were up (by a few goals)."
Looking at the group stage overall Kljestan was happy with how Anderlecht performed.
"We showed a fighting spirit (throughout the group stage) in Europe and never gave up. It's important that we won (the group) for a better draw. We want to go as far as we possibly can."
Anderlecht will return to league action this weekend when they host Lokeren on Sunday afternoon. Kljestan and company will of course be looking forward to Friday's Europa League draw to see who their next opponents will be.
Six minutes into the second half things could have been level when second half sub Rachid Bourabia got a shot off that was knocked down by Proto but he was unable to hold onto it. The second effort however was cleared off the line.
Mons became more involved in the game, compared to the first half and the ball went from end to end numerous times throughout. On one occasion Jeremy Perbet was brought down by the Polish international Marcin Wasilewski, yet the ensuing free kick taken by Matthys came to nothing but an Anderlecht break. The league's top scorer did put the ball in the back of the net in the 54th minute but this one did not go towards his tally because, unlike Diego Maradona against England, the referee saw the Frenchman's "had of god" and booked the red shirted #19.
Other than the game getting a bit ugly, the next bit of real action took place when the Dragons equalized with a fluke goal by Chris Makiese, who had just come onto the field a short while ago. Since Yanks Abroad spoke to Kljestan after the game and he had a better view.
"Silvio (Proto) came out to clear the ball but Roland (Juhasz) wanted to clear it as well," the Seton Hall alumni said. "Roland cleared it and it just went straight off the guy's shoulder and went into the goal."
"That's one in a hundred shot. Unlucky for us, but that's the way it is."
Kljestan then gave his assessment of the game and the team's performance on the night.
"It was a difficult field to play on but both teams had to play on it, so there was no beautiful football tonight."
An area of one side of the field was covered in sand, having suffered from recent rainfall, and ended up looking like a beach.
"The result was disappointing. It's disappointing to give up a goal like that. I think it was unlucky."
"We didn't create too many chances in front of the goal," a frustrated Kljestan added. "It's a throw away game really. I think we're all happy to be on a little bit of a break."
"The beach is supposed to be for tomorrow when I get home to California! It was just very difficult to play (on that field)".
After a short winter break, Anderlecht will be back in league action on January 15th when they take on Club Brugge, who are currently in third place, just three points behind the Brussels-based team.