Malik Tillman’s steal and assist were the key factor as Rangers beat PSV to reach the group stage, while Josh Cohen and Maccabi Haifa also overcame their Serbian opposition in dramatic fashion to earn a spot at the European adults’ table.
PSV Eindhoven 0 – 1 Rangers FC (agg. 2-3)
Malik Tillman and James Sands both started and played the full game for Rangers FC in their second leg in Eindhoven on Wednesday night, with Tillman’s heads-up play in the second half pushing the Scottish powerhouse over the line.
Both Rangers and PSV came out of last week’s first leg knotted at two goals apiece, giving the ever-so-slight advantage to the Dutch team heading into tonight’s second leg, as they had the advantage of trying to finish out the tie on home turf.
However, the two teams played toe-to-toe, with recent USMNT convert Malik Tillman ultimately putting in a Man of the Match performance to cement his place as a Rangers fan favorite, barely one month after joining the club.
The American attacker had a fine performance over 90 minutes, having 46 touches and completing 19 of 26 passes, but making the most of his limited time on the ball by forcing a save with his lone shot, setting up five chances, drawing a pair of fouls, and most importantly, creating the winning goal out of thin air.
James Sands also started in central defense for the visitors, and could hardly be critisized for his performance. PSV held 58% of possession and took 16 shots, but ultimately couldn’t overcome the robust back line set up by Sands and his compatriots.
Richard Ledezma is still out injured, and didn’t suit up for the hosts.
In the end, the game and the ultimate fate of the tie were decided in the minutes just preceding the hour mark, as PSV took their eyes off the prize just long enough for their visitors to take advantage.
In the 56th minute, the PSV defense couldn’t shut down Tom Lawrence, who evaded a quartet of his opponents while advancing the ball to the top edge of the area, before unleashing a wicked blast that bounced off the underside of the crossbar and barely flew to safety.
Perhaps stunned by the lucky outcome of this close call, four minutes later, PSV central defender André Ramalho Silva failed to notice Tillman charging into the area as he lazily received the ball from keeper Walter Benitez.
The American was ruthless with the steal, clinical with his control, and quick on the release to send a low cross to the far post, where Antonio-Mirko Colak easily side-footed his five-yard shot into the empty net for the eventual winner.
Tillman was ready for more blood, and forced Benitez into a diving save in the 67th minute with a shot from the edge of the area, however the Argentinean keeper was up to the task, forcing Tillman to wait until the upcoming group stage to add more Champions League goals to his total.
With this final hurdle successfully overcome, Tillman, Sands and the rest of the team will find out their Group Stage opponents in tomorrow’s draw.
Their next Champions League game will be on Sept. 6/7, but beforehand they have domestic matters to attend to, including a home game against Ross County on Saturday, and the first Old Firm derby of the season one week later.
Ledezma will have the Europa League group stage awaiting whenever he returns from his injury, with PSV’s opponents revealed in Friday’s draw.
FK Crvena Zvezda 2 – 2 Maccabi Haifa (agg. 4-5)
Josh Cohen and Maccabi Haifa reached the Champions League group stage for the third time in their history, as they eventually won a slog-fest against their Serbian hosts FK Crvena Zvezda on Tuesday night.
As usual, Cohen played the full game in goal, making three saves to offset the pair of goals allowed, with Haifa being the main aggressors on the evening. He did have nasy fall in the final moments of the game and needed attention from the medical staff, however was able to play out the remaining time.
With the Israelis coming into the second leg with a narrow 3-2 first-leg lead, they only needed to pull off a draw to earn their spot in the lucrative group stage, however took until added time in the second half to ensure they could finally breathe easily.
The hosts had a brighter first half, and overturned their deficit before the halftime whistle.
Aleksandar Pesic pulled the Serbians even on aggregate in the 27th minute with an opportunistic, sliding shot amidst chaos in front of the Haifa goal, then he set up Mirko Ivanic in the 43rd minute for a laser strike from the left of the area to put his team on the path to the group stage.
However a chaotic close to the first half saw the visitors blow a golden chance before finally pulling one back.
First Dolev Haziza saw his poor spot kick blocked by keeper Milan Borjan four minutes into added time after the vistors were awarded a penalty for a handball by Slavoljub Srnic while defending a corner.
However, seconds later, Daniel Sundgren made his team forget the lost opportunity by unleashing a wholly unexpected shot from 30 yards that barely evaded Borjan’s grip before rolling into the net.
The second half saw the two teams grind to a stalemate, looking increasingly destined for added time, until another error by the hosts’ defense gave their chance away. On a long free kick from deep in the left flank moments before the end of regulation, Milan Pavkov made a strange attempt to to block the ball the ball from the edge of the six-yard area.
Instead, he hit the perfect deflection to redirect the ball into his own net at the near post, handing the victory to his team’s gracious visitors.
Haifa will find out their group-stage opponents in Thursday’s draw, and then will begin their domestic season on Saturday at home against Maccabi Netanya.