Some of the continent’s biggest names stayed on course to reach the the Champions League group stages on Wednesday by securing victories in the tournament’s third qualifying round.
Celtic, RSC Anderlecht, Fenerbahce, Copenhagen, Panathinaikos and Dinamo Zagreb all secured their places in Friday’s draw for the playoff round, where they will be joined by sides from Europe’s biggest leagues.
Scottish champions Celtic, bidding to reach the group stages for the first time since 2008, beat HJK Helsinki 2-0 in Finland to secure a rare European away win and a 4-1 aggregate success.
Second-half goals from Joe Ledley and Giorgos Samaras settled the nerves for Neil Lennon’s side, who inflicted a first home defeat on HJK in over two years despite playing the latter stages of the game with only 10 men.
Belgian title-holders Anderlecht recorded the most emphatic win of the round, thumping Ekranas 6-0 in Lithuania to go through 11-0 on aggregate. Fenerbahce romped to a 4-1 win against Vaslui in Romania to go through 5-2 on aggregate, with Dutch former Liverpool striker Dirk Kuyt bagging a brace.
Croatia’s Dinamo Zagreb were comfortable winners, too, thumping Sheriff Tiraspol of Moldova 4-0 on the night to seal a 5-0 overall triumph, while Panathinaikos ended the hopes of Scottish outsiders Motherwell with a 3-0 victory in Athens.
Second-half goals from Lazaros Christadoulopoulos, Charis Mavrias and Ibrahim Sissoko for the Greek club, European Cup finalists back in 1971, added to their 2-0 win in Scotland last week.
There was a dramatic triumph for Copenhagen, who edged past Club Brugge KV, despite heading to Belgium on the back of a goalless draw in last week’s first leg. The Danes, who reached the last 16 two seasons ago, came from behind twice before winning 3-2 on the night thanks to goals from Nicolai Jorgensen, Christian Bolanos and Cesar Santin.
There was also a dramatic victory for Basel, with the Swiss side relying on a last-minute penalty miss to beat Norwegian champions Molde, coached by former Manchester United star Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Trailing 2-1 on aggregate, but knowing that an away goal would take them through, Molde won a penalty right at the death, only for Magne Hoseth to see his effort saved by Yann Sommer.
Maribor, Helsingborg, Hapoel Kiryat Shmona, CFR Cluj and AEL Limassol also won through to the next round, joining Dynamo Kiev and BATE Borisov, who both won on Tuesday.
They will go into Friday’s play-off round draw, along with Malaga, Borussia Moenchengladbach, Udinese, LOSC Lille Metropole, Spartak Moscow and Braga, who all now enter the competition just one step away from the lucrative group phase.