By Zoran Milosavljevic
BELGRADE (Reuters) – Red Star Belgrade reached the Champions League third qualifying round with a 3-2 aggregate win over HJK Helsinki despite a tepid 2-1 defeat at the Finnish champions which infuriated coach Vladan Milojevic on Wednesday.
Their reward will be a clash with Copenhagen, who strolled to a 3-0 overall win over Welsh rivals The New Saints after Greece midfielder Zeca scored the solitary goal in the return leg in the Danish capital.
Sebastian Dahlstrom fired Helsinki ahead on the night with a fine shot in the 46th minute and Evans Mensah missed a gilt-edged chance to level the tie before 1991 European Cup winners Red Star got the vital away goal.
Dusan Jovancic scored with a deflected shot after a defence splitting pass from Marko Marin but more poor defending by the Serbian side allowed Riku Riski to give Helsinki a bittersweet win with a stoppage time effort.
“We are through to the next round and that’s all that matters right now,” Milojevic told reporters.
“We knew it would be tough despite winning the first leg 2-0 and I really don’t understand why we sat back when we should have killed the tie earlier.
“I am not too disappointed but I am also unhappy with the fact that we conceded a pair of sloppy goals tonight.”
Copenhagen missed a string of chances to win by a bigger margin either side of a magnificent strike by Zeca, who gave TNS keeper Paul Harrison no chance with a thunderbolt from 25 metres which hit the top corner of the net.
Left back Pierre Bengtsson hit the post and striker Pieros Sotiriou was guilty of repeated poor finishing, with Harrison also pulling off several good saves.
Azeri champions Qarabag stormed past Dundalk 4-1 on aggregate after two goals from Romero Jaime and another by Ailton gave them a 3-0 home win over Ireland’s title holders.
Rosenborg beat BATE Borisov 2-0 to overturn a 2-1 first-leg deficit while Slovenians Maribor squeezed past AIK Stockholm on away goals despite a 3-2 defeat in Sweden after extra time.
Trailing 2-1 from the first leg, AIK took an early lead through Per Karlsson before Andrej Kotnik put Maribor back in the driving seat.
Sebastian Larsson forced extra time and AIK appeared to be home and dry after Tarik Elyounoussi made it 3-1 in the 93rd minute. However, Alexandru Cretu struck in the 117th to silence the home crowd.
(Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic; Editing by Pritha Sarkar)