Manchester City and Borussia Moenchengladbach cruised into the Champions League Wednesday, along with Copenhagen and Dynamo Zagreb – though Ajax surprisingly crashed out 4-1 in the play-offs in Rostov-on-Don.
These teams will join the five sides – Celtic, Monaco, Porto, Ludogorets and Legia Warsaw – who clinched their places in Tuesday’s play-offs in Thursday’s Champions League draw.
A reserve-packed City side – with England keeper Joe Hart making his first appearance of the season – beat Steaua Bucharest 1-0 at home, to go through on a placid 6-0 aggregate.
Hart is reportedly poised to leave City with the Manchester club close to signing veteran keeper Claudio Bravo from Barcelona. Hart had a peaceful night of little activity, with feeble Steaua rarely giving him problems.
“That was a really special night for me,” Hart said.
“We all know there is a situation going on. This is a special place for me, I’ve made no secret of that. Situations occur in football. We are men and we get on with it.
“We have got a top manager (Pep Guardiola) and he is going to have his opinion on things. Tonight I played and enjoyed every moment of it. The situation is what it is.”
The game in Manchester was something of a formality, given that City had won the first leg 5-0 in Romania last week.
The only goal came in the 56th minute, when Fabian Delph headed in a centre from fellow reserve Jesus Navas.
Meanwhile in Germany, Moenchengladbach thumped Young Boys 6-1 – with hat-tricks from both Raffael and Thorgan Hazard- to cruise through 9-2.
In Cyprus, APOEL almost forced extra-time against Copenhagen. The hosts were leading 1-0 thanks to a strike from Pieros Sotiriou, only for Copenhagen’s Federico Santander to equalize just four minutes from time – and give the Danes a crucial 2-1 aggregate triumph.
“That was a very important goal for me to score,” a euphoric Santander said.
“If we had not got that goal then the tie would have gone into extra-time – and anything could have happened then.
“APOEL were very sharp tonight, but I think we just about deserved to qualify over the two games.”
The surprise of the night was four-times Euro champions Ajax’s 4-1 meltdown in Rostov, who have never managed to reach the Champions League before.
Serdar Azmoun, Aleksandr Yerokhin, Christian Noboa and Dmitry Poloz all scored for slick Rostov, who then had Fedor Kudryashov sent off. Davy Klaassen pulled a late goal back for Ajax, but it came far too late to save them from a humiliating exit.
It could turn out to be a sad end to the Ajax career of keeper Jasper Cillessen, who is poised to replace Bravo at Barcelona.
Meanwhile in Salzburg, Dynamo Zagreb battled out a heroic 2-1 win in extra-time to go through on a tight 3-2 aggregate.
The first leg in Zagreb was a 1-1 draw.
Valentino Lazaro gave Salzburg the lead Wednesday with an early strike, only for Zagreb’s Junior Fernandes to force extra-time by making it 1-1 with just three minutes of normal time left.
El-Arbi Hilal Soudani won the game for Zagreb with a crucial strike five minutes into extra-time.