Set to just miss out on a spot in the big dance for the sixth time in the last five years down 1-0 to lowly FC Rostov, CSKA Moscow pulled a rabbit out of a hat.
An 88th-minute header from Pontus Wernbloom earned CSKA the point it needed to snatch second place from the jaws of defeat and secure Champions League qualification by the skin of their teeth.
The 1-1 draw with the relegation-threatened club gave CSKA 60 points, level with Krasnodar on points but ahead into second place on a much-superior goal differential. The top two places in the Russian Premier League earn Champions League qualification, with the winners Zenit St. Petersburg into the group stage and CSKA into the playoff round.
“I’m very happy we were able to show character, skill and hold on in the end,” CSKA coach Leonid Slutsky told local television after the match. “It was very tough.”
It’s not the first time Wernbloom has come to the rescue for CSKA. The
Harry Potter character Swedish midfielder scored a late equalizer against Real Madrid in the 2012 knockout stages of the Champions League to earn CSKA a 1-1 draw in the first leg of their Round of 16 match. He also bagged a brace for Sweden – his only two international goals in 45 appearances – against Hungary in Euro 2012 qualifying, goals that proved vital as his country finished just four points ahead of Hungary in the qualification table and would go on to make the field in Poland and Ukraine.
Krasondar also drew with Dynamo Moscow on the last day, sticking them in third place and earning a Europa League spot alongside fourth-placed Dynamo and the Russian League Cup winners Lokomotiv Moscow. Rubin Kazan finished the season with a 1-1 draw against FC Ufa, which wasn’t enough to pull any higher than fifth, falling two points shy of European qualification.