LONDON: Old rivals Red Star Belgrade and Dinamo Zagreb advanced to the Champions League group stage on Tuesday after making it through their playoff second-leg games.
The former fierce domestic rivalry between the current champions of Serbia and Croatia which was curbed in 1991 could now be renewed in Europe’s top competition.
Red Star, who won the European Cup in 1991 as the old Yugoslav national league broke up, went through on away goals after a 1-1 draw with visiting Swiss side Young Boys made the aggregate score 3-3.
Dinamo also drew, 1-1, away to Rosenborg to go through 3-1 on aggregate. Olympiakos Piraeus won 2-1 at Krasnodar to complete a 6-1 aggregate drubbing of the Russian side.
Roared on by a fervent 50,000 home crowd, Red Star, who earned a 2-2 draw in the reverse fixture, were on the back foot for long spells but coach Vladan Milojevic was delighted after they squeezed through.
For the second straight year, Red Star are the only team to play through eight games in four qualifying rounds to reach the lucrative group stage.
“I am very proud of my players and what we achieved this evening is a tremendous success,” Milojevic told a news conference.
“It was tough. I told the players before the match that giving it their best shot was all anyone could ask for. We are now looking forward to our second season among Europe’s elite.
“We are one big happy family at Red Star and still living the dream. We’ve made Serbia proud.”
Fans of Red Star parked a decommissioned Yugoslav army battle tank, used in the Balkan conflicts in the 1990s, outside their Marakana stadium for the game. The tank decorated with the club’s logo, was installed with a crane.
On their Facebook page the club called it an “attraction”. Croatian media took it personally. One leading sports daily said the tank was a “morbid provocation from Belgrade”.
The fans said the tank celebrated the Red Star “machine,” but it only sputtered on the field.
Left back Milan Rodic missed Red Star’s best chance in the first half when he headed over the bar before midfielder Michel Aebischer twice went close to swinging the tie Young Boys’ way.
Red Star keeper Milan Borjan almost spilled a deflected cross into his own net and then saved a Roger Assale sitter before the home side broke the deadlock with their first purposeful move of the night.
Playmaker Marko Marin released Rodic with a delightful pass and the left back raced down the flank to deliver a sharp cross for winger Aleksa Vukanovic to head home powerfully from six metres at the near post and score his first goal for Red Star.
Red Star endured a tense last 10 minutes after they half-cleared a deep cross into their penalty area and substitute El Fardou Ben Nabouhane turned a shot by the visitors’ Saidy Janko from 18 metres into his own net.
Borjan, who was instrumental in the previous round’s penalty shootout win over Copenhagen, again rescued Red Star when he tipped over a stoppage time piledriver by Jean Pierre Nsame. Then, as added time ended in a flurry of cards, Red Star’s Tomane was sent off.
In Norway, Rosenborg struck after 11 minutes.
Samuel Adegbenro scored from point-blank range after Dominik Livakovic had saved Ike Jensen’s close range effort only for the ball to hit the post and roll back along the line.
With 19 minutes to play, Bosnia-Herzegovina midfielder Amer Gojak restored Dinamo’s aggregate two-goal margin when he smacked a rising left-foot shot just inside the ear post from outside the Rosenborg penalty area.
Dinamo will be in the pot of third-seeded teams and can be grouped with Red Star, who are in the lowest-ranked pot 4 at Thursday’s draw in Monaco.
Olympiakos arrived in Russia with a 4-0 first-leg cushion and Krasnodar had 60 seconds of hope.
In the ninth minute, Olympiakos had chances to clear before the ball reached Daniil Utkin on the edge of the six-yard box. The 19-year-old midfielder had time to tee the ball up before popping it into the net.
A minute later, Youssef Al Arabi replied for the visitors. He also had time to control a low cross, as defender Sergei Petrov fell over. Once he had flicked the ball over the prone Petrov, the French striker scored easily.
Al Arabi, only starting because Miguel Angel Guerrero suffered a muscle problem warming up, added a second three minutes into the second half. Slicing the ball into the empty goal from close range after the home defence had failed to deal with a low cross.
The victory stretches Olympiakos’ unbeaten run in qualifying rounds of European club tournaments to 16 matches. The Greek league runners-up have reached the group stage of either the Champions League or the Europa League in each of the last eight years.
Published in Dawn, August 29th, 2019