Benfica, PSV, Red Star reach Champions League group stage
Former European champions Benfica, PSV Eindhoven and Red Star Belgrade advanced to the Champions League group stage yesterday, while Salzburg were eliminated in the play-offs for the fifth time in nine years after wasting a two-goal lead.
Salzburg's quest to join Europe's elite under long-time financial backer Red Bull was in sight when they led Red Star 2-0 with 30 minutes to play in the second-leg game in Austria.
It all changed in a 75-second burst as the Serbian champion's El Fardou Ben Nabouhane scored twice with close-range finishes. The forward's goals sent the 1991 European Cup winners through on away goals with a 2-2 aggregate score.
Red Star will be playing in the group stage for the first time in the 27-season Champions League era.
Two-time champions Benfica and 1988 European Cup winners PSV had an easier time to advance.
Benfica won 4-1 at PAOK Thessaloniki to go through 5-2 in aggregate, and PSV beat BATE Borisov 3-0 for a 6-2 aggregate score.
After a 1-1 draw in Lisbon last week, Benfica looked to be in trouble when they trailed to a 13th-minute goal by PAOK's Aleksandar Prijovic.
Benfica hit back with three goals in a 19-minute spell before half-time from Jardel, Eduardo Salvio and Pizzi. Salvio added a fourth in the second half for the 1961 and '62 champions.
The result means that Benfica will be among the second-seeded teams in today's group-stage draw and pushed last season's runners-up Liverpool down into the third-seeded pot that also contains PSV.
The Dutch champions join compatriots Ajax in the draw after easing past BATE, with Steven Bergwijn, Luuk de Jong and Mexico winger Hirving Lozano scoring the goals.
Salzburg seemed finally destined for the group stage after forward Munas Dabbur netted a brace either side of half-time. The second came from a penalty that seemed harshly awarded when Hannes Wolf was tackled after cleanly getting off his shot.
Though Salzburg have won nine Austrian titles since being taken over and rebranded by energy drink maker Red Bull in 2005, they always failed to get through the Champions League qualifying rounds.
The six play-off losers enter the Europa League group-stage draw to be held tomorrow in Monaco.