Spartak seal passage to Champions League group stage
Istanbul: Ten-man Spartak Moscow progressed to the Champions League football group stage after holding on for a dramatic 1-1 draw against Fenerbahce, earning an aggregate 3-2 win in their playoff.
An early strike by Brazilian striker Ari Wednesday was cancelled out by a late header from Fenerbahce`s Moussa Sow.
Spartak held on for the last ten minutes with 10 men after Dutch midfielder Demy de Zeeuw was dismissed for a second bookable offence.
Visiting goalkeeper Andriy Dikan saved Spartak on several occasions in a second half that saw the Russians come under immense pressure from a physical Fenerbahce side egged on by a hostile crowd.
Spartak join Russian champions Zenit St. Petersburg in Friday`s group stage draw.
On a fiery night in Istanbul, Ari opened the scoring after just five minutes, stabbing home an Aiden McGeady cross to round off lightning-fast counterattack from the visitors.
With Fenerbahce needing three goals to overturn the deficit, the pace of the match turned frantic very early on.
That played into the hands of Spartak, whose coach Unai Emery made three changes to the side that won the home leg to field a more defensive lineup.
Further trouble followed for Aykut Kocaman`s side when winger Milos Krasic was stretchered off after 14 minutes after pulling up with an apparent hamstring problem.
Miroslav Stoch came on in his place but the Russians soaked up much of the first-half pressure without fuss, restricting the home side to a few pots shots from distance.
Stoch scythed a shot over on 22 minutes, with Dirk Kuyt doing the same on 35.
The Turkish side began to panic on the ball, unable to put together a single meaningful attack, and were further let down by poor discipline as they rushed into over-zealous tackles to concede unnecessary free kicks.
Defender Egemen Korkmaz came closest for Fenerbahce in first-half stoppage time, powering a header just wide.
Fenerbahce came out attacking in the second half, as exemplified by left wingback Hasan Ali Kaldirim, whose fierce low drive was parried by Andriy Dikan in the Spartak goal.
Dikan was at full stretch moments later to tip a rasping left-foot strike by Mehmet Topal onto the crossbar and high into the night sky.
Spartak gave as good as they got, with Czech defender Marek Suchy showing remarkable poise inside the opponents` area to control a high ball and lash it against the post.
But the hosts turned the screw and Spartak`s defense began to creak.
Dikan made a double save from Topal and then Stoch, before the impressive Mehmet Topuz clattered the crossbar with a header from a corner.
When the 35-year-old Ukrainian made an improbably quick-reflex low save, it seemed only a matter of time before the goal would come.
It did so from the resulting corner, with Senegalese forward Moussa Sow redirecting Topuz` header past Dikan from close range.
Unai Emery tried to provide his side a fresh outlet by bringing on target man Artem Dzyuba in place of the exhausted Emmanuel Emenike.
His opposite number Aykut Kocaman`s did the same for his midfield, substituting Topuz for Brazilian Cristian Baroni.
Spartak`s task became all the more difficult ten minutes from time de Zeeuw was shown a second yellow card for a foul on Topal and dismissed.
The Turkish side laid siege to the Spartak goal, with the visitors keeping all nine outfield players inside their own third.
Dikan came to Spartak`s rescue yet again on 85 minutes, diving at the feet of goalscorer Sow to block a close-range effort at the back post.
The Russians stuck it out through six nail-biting, however, to seal passage into the group stage.