Two brilliant goals from Memphis Depay saw Manchester United take a huge step towards returning to the Champions League group stages as they beat Club Brugge 3-1 winners at Old Trafford on Tuesday in their play-off first leg match.
While United, who missed out on Champions League action last year, will take a comfortable looking two-goal lead to Belgium, Sporting Lisbon will have a slender one-goal advantage to bring with them to Moscow, although their 2-1 win over CSKA ended the Russian side’s nine-game unbeaten streak in Champions League qualifying games.
United were hit by an early setback with an own goal by Michael Carrick, who beat Sergio Romero, preferred once again to David de Gea, to put the visitors 1-0 ahead. However, they drew level on the quarter-hour mark thanks to a sublime piece of individual skill from Depay, who lofted the ball over a Brugge defender, ran on to the ball and fired it into the net.
The Dutch star, a £25m signing from PSV Eindhoven in the close season, bettered that shortly before half-time, cutting in from the left and curling a superb effort past Sebastien Bruzzese. United huffed and puffed to get what could be a crucial third goal and finally managed it in the dying seconds, after Brugge had been reduced to ten men, as Marouane Fellaini, who played under Brugge coach Michel Preud’homme at Standard Liege from 2006-08, scored from a Depay cross.
Sporting Lisbon got an early goal at home to Russian side CSKA Moscow as Costa Rican international Brian Ruiz set up Teofilo Guttierez and the 30-year-old Colombian marksman rifled the ball past experienced goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev.
CSKA had entered the match having yet to drop a point in five games in their domestic league but they looked anything but unbeatable in Lisbon as they were initially outplayed by the hosts. However, they inched back into the match and should have been level but for Seydou Doumbia seeing his 27th minute penalty saved by Rui Patricio.
Despite this disappointment, the Ivorian striker made no mistake five minutes from the half-time break, seizing on Roman Eremenko’s perceptive through ball to beat Patricio this time round. The hosts, though, regained the lead eight minutes from time as Algerian international Islam Slimani finished off a delightful 1-2 with Andre Carrillo giving Akinfeev no chance.
A superb goal by substitute Keita Balde gave Lazio a 1-0 home win over Bayer Leverkusen. The match had begun with a minute’s silence in honour of former German Football Federation president Gerhard Mayer-Vorfelder, who died on Monday.
The German side had the upper hand in the second half but were hit on the counter-attack by a razor sharp Lazio move which resulted in Keita – who had replaced German veteran Miroslav Klose at half-time – outstripping his marker and planting the ball into the far corner of the net with 13 minutes remaining.
Astana’s chances of becoming the first Kazakh side to reach the group stage has a positive hue about it as they secured a 1-0 win at home to APOEL Nicosia, Baurzhan Dzholchyiev getting the goal.
BATE Borisov – no strangers to the group stage – will take a narrow advantage to Serbia next week after a second-half goal by Mikhail Gordechiuk broke the deadlock and gave the Belarus outfit a 1-0 win over 1966 finalists Partizan Belgrade.