CSKA Moscow motored into the quarter-finals of the Champions League last night for the first time in their history last night, with new signing Keisuke Honda claiming the crucial goal.
With the tie delicately balanced after the two teams exchanged first-half goals, the Japanese international powered in a long-range free-kick that embarrassed Sevilla keeper Andreas Palop 10 minutes into the second half.
It ensured a victory that will be a substantial boost to football in the region, where teams are facing financial difficulties and have made little impact in Europe in recent years.
There was little to suggest that CSKA are equipped to progress much further when they meet more formidable opposition than the Spaniards, whose lack of attacking ideas show why they are struggling in La Liga this season.
But CSKA will fear nobody and can cherish the memory of a win that showed their progress through the group stages was not the fluke many had suggested — and they achieved it despite the fact their domestic season only started last Friday after a lengthy winter lay-off.
They went into that break knowing they were through to the last 16, but had progressed with a patchy record while their defence had been particularly vulnerable, conceding goals in every one of their last 15 outings in the competition.
Their latest failure to keep a clean sheet was in the first leg of this tie when they had to rely on a startling long-range strike from Mark Gonzalez to wipe out Alvaro Negredo’s opener.
Sevilla’s goal in Moscow was no surprise since they have scored in 15 of their last 16 Champions League games, but it did mean Moscow needed at least one goal last night to have any chance of going in the quarter-final draw on Friday.
CSKA’s task would have been even more daunting if Luis Fabiano had taken a chance for the Spaniards after only three minutes, but his close-range shot was superbly blocked by keeper Igor Akinfeev.
Worryingly for Sevilla coach Manolo Jiminez, such clear-cut opportunities for his team were rare in the opening half, although they were encouraged by uncertainty from Akinfeev after that initial excellent stop.
And Jiminez’s confidence was not aided by CSKA Moscow’s ability to cause difficulties for his midfield and defence and by their ability to break quickly and with penetration.
Manchester United supporters know only too well that goalscoring is not a problem for CSKA, who achieved a 3-3- draw at Old Trafford as they finished behind Alex Ferguson’s side in the group stages.
Milos Krasic was outstanding in that game and was desperate to do well again last night after admitting he would relish a move to La Liga next season. Krasic was the visitors’ major threat with his willingness to shoot from range, epitomised by a 14th-minute effort that went close with Palop struggling.
Honda should have found a way past Palop, however, in the 26th minute. Tomas Necid created the opening, but Honda fired straight at the keeper, then hooked the rebound wide.
There was an end product, however, on the next occasion the CSKA pair combined, on 39 minutes. Honda supplied Necid and the striker evaded one challenge before guiding his shot into the far corner.
It was a lead for the 6/1 outsiders that was to last only two minutes before Moscow’s defence failed to deal with a long clearance and Diego Perotti steered his past the onrushing Akinfeev.
It was a goal that Sevilla desperately needed to restore confidence eroded while picking up only two points from three league games since their hard-working performance h in Moscow.
They have proven formidable, however, in the Champions League at their Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan Stadium, winning six of their last seven Champions League games.
And they finally started to look at ease on home ground once Freddi Kanoute replaced Diego Capel at the start of the second half. Kanoute made an instant impact with his strength in the air and touched on a cross from Jesus Navas before Perotti failed to connect in front of goal in the 53rd minute.
Then, pinned back for the first 10 minutes, CSKA broke to score a goal that was hugely embarrassing for Palop, who fumbled a 35-yard free-kick from Honda.
The ball swerved wickedly, but there was no hiding place for the goalkeeper, whose blunder left Sevilla needing to score twice if they were to make progress.
The hosts had time to recover but created few chances as they became desperate. Fabiano missed the only chance they created, while only a save from Palop prevented Gonzalez making this an even more impressive success for CSKA>.
SEVILLA (4-5-1): Palop 4; Stankevicius 6, Fazio 6, Dragutinovic 6, Navarro 5 (Adriano 75,5); Navas 8, Zokora 7, Renato 5 (Negredo 71,5), Perotti 7, Capel 5 (Kanoute 46,7); Fabiano 7.
Subs not used: Varas, Escude, Lolo, Duscher CSKA MOSCOW: Akinfeev 5; A Berezutsky 6, Ignashevich 5, V Berezutsky 5, Shchennikov 6; Semberas 6, Aldonin 6, Honda 7 (Rahimic 83,5), Gonzalez 5, Krasic 8; Necid 8.
Subs not used: Zhemchugov, Odiah, Dzagoev, Mamaev, Oliseh, Guilherme.
Referee: Viktor Kassai (Hungary) 7.