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UEFA Champions League play-off scores: USMNT’s Aaronson scores winner for Salzburg; Moldovans close to history

The group stages of the Champions League are fast approaching with six spots up for grabs in the play-offs. Four of those have been reserved for champions from lower-tier European leagues whilst lower ranked teams from France, Ukraine, Portugal and the Netherlands are battling for one of the most lucrative prizes in football.

Here’s a look at play-off results and takeaways from this week.

Play-off results and fixtures

Tuesday, August 17
Champions Path
Sheriff 3, Dinamo Zagreb 0
Red Bull Salzburg 2, Brondby 1

League Path
Monaco 0, Shakhtar Donetsk 1

Wednesday, August 18
Champions Path
Young Boys vs. Ferencvaros
Malmo vs. Ludogorets Razgrad

League Path
Benfica vs. PSV Eindhoven

Sheriff on the brink of UCL history

Moldova have never had a representative in the Champions League group stage. Their serial title winners Sheriff had not been so close in more than a decade. That might all be about to change after a wonderful win in Tiraspol on Tuesday.

Victory over Red Star Belgrade proved to Dinamo that this was not a team to be taken lightly and indeed one could not argue that they were taking their opponents lightly. Indeed the Croatian side might have taken the lead in the 34th minute as two of their star players combined to cut through the Sheriff defense.

Luka Ivanusec delivered a perfectly weighted through ball to the run of Lovro Majer. A clip over the goalkeeper looked to be enough to hand Dinamo the lead, but Danilo Arboleda was quick enough to hack the ball clear of the goalline.

Ultimately though the best chances of the first half consistently fell to the hosts. Henrique Luvanor hit the post in the seventh minute, one of nine efforts worth a combined 1.14 expected goals that they registered before the break. It took time for the pressure to translate on the scoresheet but it was worth the wait for the 6,000 supporters at the Sheriff Stadium, a brilliant pass into the channel by Cristiano, a player who looks more than ready to grace the Champions League group stages, seized upon by Adama Traore, whose low drive was well beyond Dominik Livakovic as it rolled into his back post.

That lead was doubled early in the second half in spectacular fashion, a flowing move down the left unleashing Momo Yansane hooking a cross onto the run of Dimitris Kolovos. Livakovic did not get near it, if he had the thunderous volley might well have taken his hand off.

Playing on the counter rather suited the explosive pace of Cristiano and Traore, who added a third as he burst on to Luvanor’s through ball and rolled the ball into the bottom of the net. Dinamo have previous with overturning the odds at home but even a repeat of the 3-0 victory they recorded over Tottenham at the Maksimir Stadium would only take them to extra time next week. A 34th nation looks set to be represented at the group stage, the first since Azerbaijan’s Qarabag four years ago.

Monaco face tough task in Ukraine

Monaco seemed to have blocked Pedrinho’s path to goal even after a smart give-and-go with a teammate. Three defenders surrounded the young Brazilian, with Aurelien Tchouameni offering a little nudge to the back in an attempt to bring him down. That would not do the job. Quick feet took him around Benoit Badiashile before he sent Radoslaw Majiecki the wrong way. Carrying a hip injury, it seemed the young Brazilian had offered all he could with that jinking run and by the start of the second half he had been withdrawn with Roberto De Zerbi presumably keeping one eye on next week’s second leg in Kharkhiv.

Monaco’s response to the opener was so immediate and impressive that Niko Kovac must have been wondering why they could not have started in such an assertive way. Badiashile and Kevin Volland failed to get regulation headers on target inside the box whilst Wissam Ben Yedder put one shot wide and one too close to Anatolii Trubin in the Shakhtar goal. 

Trubin proved to be quite the challenge for the Monaco forwards to beat though both Tchouameni and Aleksandr Golovin might have offered him more of a test had they not curled relatively straightforward shots down to his left either side of half time. Though the hosts dominated possession and territory it was not until the 82nd minute that the Shakhtar goalkeeper was really challenged, needing to flick a low drive by substitute Myron Boadu against his own post.

The quality of Monaco’s build-up augurs well for their trip to Ukraine next week but they will need to create far better chances in eight days time if they are to ensure there are three French representatives in the group stages.

Aaronson saves Salzburg at the death

Brenden Aaronson’s added-time winner ensured that Red Bull Salzburg’s dominance of their first leg at Brondby did not go unrewarded, a 2-1 home win setting them up favorably for the second leg in Denmark next week.

It was a dream start for Brondby in their bid to reach the group stages for the first time since 1998, Mikael Uhre showing impressive strength to hold the ball up in the box before drilling home from close range in the fourth minute. It would take them well over an hour to register another effort on Philipp Kohn’s goal.

A summer of change is very much the norm for Salzburg, so admired across Europe for their ability to find gems that will then go on to great things elsewhere. This summer saw Patson Daka and Enoch Mwepu depart for the Premier League whilst American manager Jesse Marsch departed for sister club RB Leipzig. Still there was plenty of talent still left over, not least Karim Adeyemi. The Germany international pounced on the rebound from Aaronson’s shot, firing a first time effort through bodies and into the far post.

But for Mads Hermansen, who made nine saves in his first Champions League game of the season, Salzburg might have all but stamped their passage to the group stages. His resistance and that of the defense ahead of him could not quite hold on long enough as a smart through pass by center half Oumar Solet found Aaronson in the box to beat Hermansen with a shot at his near post.




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