Australia's Milos Degenek sets up a goal for Red Star Belgrade.
Australia's Milos Degenek sets up a goal for Red Star Belgrade.

Socceroo seals stunning Champions League fairytale

SOCCEROO defender Milos Degenek played a starring role for Red Star Belgrade as the Serbian champions held Salzburg to a thrilling away draw to advance to the Champions League for the first time.

Red Star will be joined in the eagerly anticipated Friday morning (AEST) draw by Trent Sainsbury's Dutch giant, PSV Eindhoven, and Portuguese club Benfica.

Red Star, who won the European Cup in 1991, came back from two goals down in an electrifying second leg in Austria to draw 2-2 and go through on away goals after the first leg ended goalless.

Degenek played a major part in both his team's goals - scored only a minute apart - after Salzburg took a commanding 2-0 lead through striker Munas Dabbur.

The Australian defender - part of the Socceroos' Russia World Cup squad - delivered a perfect cross for Comoros striker El Fardou Ben Nabouhane to turn in at the near post in the 65th minute and then found the hitman with a looping header after a free kick was floated in from the halfway line soon after.

Jubilant Red Star fans invaded the pitch after the final whistle and mobbed Degenek and his teammates, who held firm in the closing stages as Salzburg pressed desperately in search of a winner.

It completed a remarkable story for Croatian-born Degenek, who grew up supporting Red Star and came to Australia as a refugee.

Milos Degenek in action against Salzburg.
Milos Degenek in action against Salzburg.

Leading 3-2 after the first leg against Bate Borisov, former European champions PSV Eindhoven gave the Belarusian side a mountain to climb when Steven Bergwijn scored with a low left-foot shot early in the first half.

They added goals from Luuk de Jong and Hirving Lozano to cruise through 6-2 on aggregate, as coach Mark van Bommel opted to leave out the newly signed Sainsbury from the squad.

Benfica bounced back after conceding an early goal to hammer Greek side PAOK 4-1 on the night and 5-2 on aggregate.

After drawing the first leg 1-1 at home, Benfica went a goal down in Thessaloniki when striker Aleksandar Prijovic put PAOK ahead, finishing a clever free-kick routine in the 13th minute with a tap-in.

Jardel struck back for Benfica with a towering header from a corner in the 20th minute to level the scores, and six minutes later in a moment of madness goalkeeper Alexandros Paschalakis fouled Franco Cervi in the box to gift Benfica a penalty.

Eduardo Salvio smashed home the spot-kick off the foot of the left-hand post and winger Pizzi netted another with a smooth strike to make it 3-1 before half-time.

Salvio scored a second from the spot four minutes into the second half to make it 5-2 on aggregate, and hope ran out for the home side when they had Leo Matos sent off in the 76th minute.


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