The away goals rule is something that has caused a lot of controversy throughout the years and has often been criticised. Any team who is knocked out because of this rule will often feel aggrieved due to the fact that the opposition haven’t actually put the ball in the net more times than them in the tie, with the feeling multiplied when the match is of particular importance. With the Europa League group stages within touching distance, the Play Off round is certainly one of those occasions and there were many incidents where the match was decided by the rule.
The first of the matches to be decided by away goals was Ostersunds’ clash with PAOK. The second leg began with PAOK 3-1 up after winning in the home leg. With no goals in the first 70 minutes of the second leg, many would have expected them to go through, but two goals in six minutes from Saman Ghoddos completely flipped the tie on its head and put Ostersunds in the driving seat. They had to dig in deep to secure their place in the group stages with Jamie Hopcutt, Curtis Edwards, and Hosam Aiesh all getting bookings after the 80th minute. Despite that, they managed to hold on to make it into the group stages in their first European foray, after just one full season in Allsvenskan.
Sheriff Tiraspol of Moldova also progressed to the next round via a 0-0 home draw in the second leg. Theirs came against Legia Warsaw after they drew 1-1 in Poland. During this game, Legia’s Michal Pazdan was sent off for two yellow cards in one incident. The first was for blocking off Ziguy Badibanga who was through on goal, while the second was for pulling the referee back once he had been given the first booking. This moment of madness put Legia on the back foot and in the end they were unable to break down Sheriff’s defence, meaning that they don’t make it to the group stages a year after they were in the round of 32.
Skenderbeu Korce navigated their way past Dinamo Zagreb with the exact same score lines that got Sheriff through. Although it was Skenderbeu who had a man sent off with two yellows as Bakary Nimaga was given his marching orders. To overcome Dinamo Zagreb, in particular, will bring a lot of satisfaction to the Albanian club’s supporters, as it was the Croatians who actually beat them in the Champions League Play Off round during the 2015-16 season. With Skendebeu dropping down to the Europa League and Dinamo Zagreb in a group with Bayern Munich, Arsenal and Olympiacos both clubs finished bottom of their group that season, however after getting past the Croatian club now, Skenderbeu will be hoping things are different this time around.
One of the biggest results dependant on the away goals rule was in Red Star Belgrade’s victory over Krasnodar. Many people expected Russian side Krasnodar to win the tie, especially when they won the first leg 3-2 at home. However, the Serbians came out fighting in the second leg, with Nemanja Radonjic opening the scoring in the match by pouncing on the rebound after the keeper palmed away a long range effort, also getting himself a booking by taking off his shirt in celebration. They added to that just 10 seconds into the second half thanks to a wonder strike from Guelor Kanga who also got booked for his celebrations. It took Krasnodar until the 82nd minute to find a reply with a penalty from Andreas Granqvist. Red Star goalkeeper Milan Borjan got booked for hanging onto the ball after the penalty was converted, but he also made a tremendous save to ensure his side hung onto their lead to get through to the group stages in a European competition for the first time since 2007-08 when they faced Bolton Wanderers. Their progression means that the top scorer of qualifying, Richard Boakye can look to add to the seven goals and three assists he has got to this point.
The only side to be knocked out on away goals despite winning in the second leg were Croatian side Osijek who had sent PSV Eindhoven crashing out of the Europa League earlier in the competition. They had lost their home leg against Austria Vienna 2-1, which meant they required a big performance in the second leg. They did get that, with Gabrijel Boban’s goal just after the hour mark earning them a 1-0 win, however, it wasn’t enough for the club to force their way into the group stages for the first time in their history.
Some other big results saw Everton get past Hajduk Split, Rosenborg knock out last year’s finalists Ajax, AEK Athens beat Club Brugge and Fenerbahce lose out to Vardar.
The Europa League groups have been drawn and the first fixtures of the next stage will be played on 14th September.