Udinese missed out on the UEFA Champions League group stage for the second season running on Tuesday, losing on penalties to SC Braga in the playoffs after an comical shootout miss to leave Italy with only two clubs in Europe’s top competition.
Brazilian substitute Maicosuel tried to emulate Andrea Pirlo’s effort for Italy against England at Euro 2012 by nonchalantly chipping the ball into the middle of the goal, but mishit his shot and allowed Braga goalkeeper Beto to save.
Spain’s Malaga, facing uncertainty behind the scenes amid speculation that their Qatari owner is looking to sell up, overcame their internal worries to reach the group stage for the first time after drawing 0-0 at Panathinaikos. RSC Anderlecht qualified for the first time since 2006-2007 with a 2-0 win over AEL, denying the Cypriot champions a chance to emulate compatriots APOEL, who reached the quarter-finals last season.
The Belgians were joined in the group stage and today’s draw in Monaco by BATE Borisov of Belarus and Croatia’s Dinamo Zagreb, who both qualified for the second year running.
Portuguese side Braga’s collection of Brazilian journeymen won 5-4 on penalties against shattered Udinese after the two sides drew 1-1 for a 2-2 aggregate draw.
Udinese also paid the price for selling three of their top players from last season, goalkeeper Samir Handanovic going to Inter, while Mauricio Isla and Kwadwo Asamoah joined Juventus.
Beaten by Arsenal at the same stage last season, Udinese made a jittery start against opponents wearing the same color strip as the English side, but went ahead after 25 minutes.
Dusan Basta hooked a cross into the area and Pablo Armero dived in to head the ball beyond goalkeeper Beto.
The Colombian also had a golden chance to add a second early in the second half when he had a free shot on goal, but, in a moment of pure slapstick, slipped over as he took aim.
Braga, whose side includes seven Brazilians who are mostly well-traveled and have plied their trade at unglamorous clubs, were in control by then and leveled when substitute Ruben Micael headed in Mossoro’s cross in the 72nd minute.
Udinese’s defeat means Italy will have only Serie A champions Juventus and seven-time European Cup winners AC Milan in the group stage.
Malaga have seen Spain midfielder Santi Cazorla and Venezuela striker Salomon Rondon depart for Arsenal and Rubin Kazan respectively in what the Andalusian club has described as a process of “internal restructuring.”
However, they held on comfortably in Athens in a game of few scoring chances against opponents who have taken part in the group stage nine times.
Democratic Republic of the Congo forward Dieudonne Mbokani and Ukraine forward Oleksandr Yakovenko scored in the last 10 minutes for Anderlecht.
Mbokani drove in Massimo Bruno’s cross in the 81st minute to end some tenacious resistance by AEL’s cosmopolitan side and Yakovenko scored inside the far post as he finally netted after being repeatedly denied earlier in the game.
Anderlecht’s 3-2 aggregate win allowed them to take what many felt to be their rightful place in the group stage for which they had originally qualified.
The Belgians were demoted to the third qualifying round after Chelsea’s Champions League title win last season following a sixth-place English Premier League finish forced UEFA to reshuffle the places.