Recap: Europa League Play-offs

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Sam Vines and Mikkel Diskerud saw their teams face off with a spot in the Europa League group stage on the line, however it was the former celebrating at the end as Royal Antwerp bested Omonia on penalties.

Diskerud started for the Cypriot powerhouse and played 86 minutes of regular time before being subbed out, while Vines was a late second-half substitute and performed well through the tense overtime period.

After Diskerud and Omonia were victorious in a 4-2 barnburner in the first leg in Cyprus, the Belgians had a hill to climb in order to have any hope of progressing.

Antwerp were clearly the aggressors in the opening stages, and saw their chances boosted when Johannes Eggenstein headed on a goal kick from keeper Jean Butez directly into the path of Koji Miyoshi as he broke towards goal. The Japanese international opted to chip his shot over the onrushing Omonia keeper, and was on-target for the 1-0 lead.

The Belgains maintained the momentums and kept constant pressure on their guests with wave after wave of attacks, however Omonia managed to hold strong, and even carved out a few chances of their own.

Diskerud saw an attempt from six yards out blocked in the 44th minute, while he teamed up with halftime substitute Iyayi Atiemwen several times to set up threatening runs into the Antwerp area.

Nevertheless, the hosts were relentless and peppered the Omonia goal with attempt after attempt, and their aggression finally paid off with six minutes remaining in regular time.

Michael-Ange Balikwisha cut in from the left edge of the field in the attacking half, and worked his way to the upper left corner of the area before centering the ball to Pieter Gerkens, who neatly tucked away his shot to even the aggregate at four goals apiece.

With UEFA having abandoned the away-goals rule prior to the current campaign, the game headed to 30 minutes of added time. The Belgians remained the more dangerous of the two teams, however could not add another to their tally, eventually forcing a penalty shootout.

The first round of spot-kicks went disastrously for the Cypriot team, with Jordi Gomez skying his attempt well wide of goal in contrast to Birger Verstraete’s on-target strike. After that, the visitors were never able to recover, with Antwerp finally advancing by a 3-2 margin.

Vines was not chosen to take one of his team’s initial four kicks, however did his part to keep their opponents’ attack scoreless and toothless during his 40 minutes on the field.

With the victory, Antwerp continue onto the group stage of the competition, where they will face Olympiacos, Eintracht Frankfurt and Fenerbahçe.

Omonia drop down into the Europa Conference League group stage, landing in a group together with Basel, Azerbaijani team Qarabağ and Kazakhstani champions Kairat.


David Smith

I'm YA's resident doctor, but not the kind of doctor you would want giving you an examination anywhere outside of a lecture hall. I've been YA's feet-on-the-ground in Germany since 2008, have an affinity for overly verbose descriptions of irrelevant minutiae, keep an eye on YAs in most of the destinations on mainland Europe, and watch a whole lot of Serie A.

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