Our European guru educates and enlightens
The cliché coaches like to use when their teams win the first leg of a cup tie is that their team has a foot in the next round.
After their 5-1 demolition of Anderlecht, Lyon have both feet inside the door and are just about to close it behind them.
Even on television, the atmosphere in the Gerland felt like a carnival – unless, of course, you were an Anderlecht fan for whom it felt more like a burial.
Les Mauves coach Ariel Jacobs pointed to one minute – when Anderlecht didn’t get a penalty at one end, while Lyon were awarded one at the other – as the turning point, but he had the grace to admit his team had been undone by a “collective stampede."
A horde of rampaging wildebeest couldn’t have done more damage.
Also with both feet inside and their hand wrapped firmly around the door handle are FC Zurich, whose victory in Latvia was even more comprehensive than the 3-0 scoreline suggests.
The minute-by-minute account on uefa.com captures the game brilliantly in Hemingwayesgue staccato:
“86: Djuric (Zurich) has a shot blocked; 87: Okonkwo (Zurich) misses the target; 88: Okonkwo (Zurich) misses the target; 90: Alphonse (Zurich) has a shot blocked; 90: Djuric (Zurich) has a shot blocked; 90+3: Nikci (Zurich) hits the crossbar.”
If they had done a minute-by-minute report of the last hours at the Alamo, it might have read a bit like that.
Three sides won 2-0 away from home (Arsenal, Olympiacos and Stuttgart) and must be regarded as almost through.
Celtic were wholehearted and desperately unlucky but lacked the quality to trouble the Gunners.
Until Brazilian playmaker Dudu did the voodoo that he does so well, the Moldovan champions Sheriff were holding their own against Olympiacos.
The Brazilian playmaker’s fierce swerving shot broke the deadlock for the Greeks and probably safeguarded coach Temuri Ketsbaia’s job.
Huub Stevens may be worried about his after Salzburg’s 2-1 defeat at home to Maccabi Haifa.
Under the former PSV coach, the Austrians have failed to win in three home qualifiers, drawing against Bohemians and Dinamo Zagreb and losing to the Israelis.
Debreceni won by the same score away to Levksi Sofia and their only regret may be that they didn’t score more.
Still, in the absence of any Czech or Polish teams, it would be good if Debreceni became the first Hungarian club to make the group stage since Ferencvaros in 1995/96.
Atletico Madrid, Fiorentina and Copenhagen all have the edge in their ties but none of the three have a decisive advantage.
The Danish champions may rue only taking a 1-0 lead to Nicosia. In their last 10 home games in Europe, Cypriot champions APOEL have won five, drawn three and lost two.
Only Schalke, 4-1 winners in the UEFA Cup last season, have really mullered APOEL in Nicosia in recent years.
The record doesn’t offer much comfort for teams who are up against it.
In last year’s third qualifying round, 15 of the 16 sides who had a foot, or even a toe, in the door after the first leg went on to complete the job.
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