PSV were supposed to be a significant test for Milan, and at times during today’s first half, the possession the Dutch runners-up held hinted they could knock the Italian giants out of Champions League. Unfortunately, the final score ended as you might have predicted when an Italian side faces a Dutch team in Europe. Despite some engaging skill from PSV’s enviable young talent, they were relegated to Europa League after today’s 3-0 loss at the San Siro, the 4-1 aggregate costing them a chance at Champions League’s group stage.
Last week’s 1-1 in Eindhoven already put Phillip Cocu’s club in a difficult situation, requiring them to get a result out of Italy. After eight minutes, their situation got worse, with a Kevin Prince Boateng blast from outside the penalty area eluding Jeroen Zoet, sneaking inside the right post to make it 2-1. Boateng added a second after half time, adding to Mario Balotelli’s 55th minute goal from Stephan El Shaarawy to give Milan their three-goal win.
The final score was deceiving, though, as the numerous tests PSV put on Christian Abbiati would have landed them on the scoresheet most nights. But it’s always a bit disingenuous to separate a goalkeeping performance from a team’s overall quality. Abbiati is, after all, a well-tenured Rossoneri player – a vice-captain, even. Better to note that a performance like today’s hints PSV’s draw may have been an unlucky one. Had they gone up against one of the other “seeded” teams, Cocu’s team would have been more likely to go through.
Instead, Milan joins Juventus and Napoli as Serie A’s representatives in group stage, though the playoff round’s other third place teams were unable to up their leagues’ allotments. Both Lyon (France) and Paços de Ferreira (Portugal) will play in Europa League, each on the wrong side of lopsided aggregates:
Real Sociedad 2-0 (4-0) Lyon
The ease with which La Real took a two-goal win out of Stade de Gerland was one of the first legs’ more surprising results, given OL’s strong start in France. But Spain’s fourth place finishers took a commanding lead in their road leg, leaving them only to hold out at home to qualify for the full competition.
Initially, it seem as if they were going to merely hold out, with Lyon controlling much of the early play before Sociedad came into the match. In the second half, La Real asserted themselves, got a double from Mexican not-so-international Carlos Vela, are cruised to a surprisingly easy 4-0 win.
Zenit St. Petersburg 4-2 (8-3) Paços de Ferriera
Paços were always over their head in this one, and after losing 4-1 last week in Portugal, the Beavers were already practically eliminated. Today Portuguese international Danny had two goals by the 48th minute, giving Russia’s runners-up a 6-1 lead. Goals by Manuel José and Carlão balanced tallies from Aleksandr Bukharov and Andrei Arshavin over the final 24 minutes, putting Luciano Spalletti’s team into group stage.
Celtic 3-0 (3-2) Shakhter Karagandy
The Kazakhstani club was unknown in Western Europe before being drawn against the Celtic, but after taking a two-goal win from their tie’s first leg, their sheep-sacrificing ways became well-known throughout the British Isles. Jokes about Celtic manager Neil Lennon hiding all the sheep in Scotland, preventing his visitors from completing their pre-match, good luck ritual, made light of the tradition, but given the Hoops’ big turnaround, perhaps Lennon was successful.
Kris Commons pulled the first back from 25 yards out just before halftime, with Greece international Georgios Samaras equalizing in the 48th. Tied 2-2 and seemingly headed for extra time, Shakhter were shockingly shown out of the competition when James Forrest scored in the second minute of stoppage time, sending the Scottish champions through.
Maribor 0-1 (1-4) Viktoria Plzen
Maribor’s hopes of turning around their two-goal deficit were squelched in the third minute, with Stanislav Tecl’s early goal not only pushing the Czechs to a three-goal lead but also canceling out the Slovenians’ road goal. The current Czech league-leaders return to Champions League’s group stage after a one-year absence, having qualified for Europa League with a third place finish in 2011-12.