A first for our follow-a-team-through-the-European-competitions experiment as both of our teams in the play-offs won through to the main draw of their respective competitions.
Maribor were highly unfancied against relative giants Celtic, reprieved after a stuffing off Legia Warsaw in the previous round. But the Slovenian champions heaped an unwanted footnote in UEFA history to the former winners from Glasgow – being knocked out of the same competition twice in one season. On the face of it, Celtic’s 1-1 draw in Slovenia wasn’t a terrible result. The 1-0 defeat at Celtic Park however, was. Brazilian forward Marcos Tavares was the man with the crucial goal that sent Maribor into the group stage for the first time.
(Celtic had several chances but they lacked both cutting edge and composure in a mostly worrying night at Celtic Park. There was something inevitable about the way Maribor took the lead, and equally inevitable about Celtic’s failure to level things up– website Ed. and Celtic fan who– probably unfortunately– watched the game).
Without wishing to be patronising, but they were the teams most people would want to draw in that group stage and the theatrical fishing of balls from goldfish bowls handed them Chelsea, Schalke and Sporting CP. Tough, but also an opportunity to leave a mark on some fancied runners.
In the Europa League, the mammoth play-off round saw Rio Ave first travel to Sweden where they were beaten by Elfsborg, although Marcelo’s goal midway through the second half ensured that it was no disaster. 1-0 in the return would do them, and what d’you know? With the game locked at 0-0 and the Swedes looking forward to what many people refer to as the ‘round of far too f***ing many’ until Esmaël Gonçalves intervened. Pedro Martins threw the forward on late in the piece to replace right-back Lionn. With the game in the second minute of stoppages, he struck to deny Klas Ingesson’s side at the death and also picked up a caution for the celebration.
In the draw, Rio Ave were handed trips to Aalborg – defeated in the Champions League play-offs by APOEL Nicosia – Ukrainian giants Dynamo Kiev and another defeated Champions League side, Steaua Bucharest, who were undone in one of the all-time great penalty shoot-outs. Again, a tough draw.
How we work out who to follow should either Maribor or Rio Ave fail to get through their groups, I’ve no idea. There’s time to work that out yet.