It took Everton nine months of scrapping to qualify for European competition. It took them only 135 minutes to nearly toss the opportunity away.
In order to advance to group stage (i.e. round-robin play) in the UEFA Cup, Everton needed only to defeat a club called Metalist Kharkiv, the fourth place club from Ukraine, which is basically a two club country. In a “knock out” round like this, the teams play two times, once at each venue. The team with the best combined score moves on. If it’s a tie, the team that scored the most goals away from home advances. That rule is designed to induce the visiting team to attack rather than just defend. If this rule fails to break the tie, the teams play overtime, followed (if necessary) by penalty kicks.
The first leg was played at Goodison Park. Naturally, Everton hoped to build a big lead while keeping Kharkiv off the score board. They did neither. Despite winning two penalty kicks (both missed by Andy Johnson) and seeing Kharkiv reduced to nine men (two of their players were sent off with red cards), the best Everton could manage was a 1-1 draw.
Claiming they had taken Kharkiv too lightly, and with star player Mikel Arteta having recovered from injury, Everton vowed to lift its play in the second leg. However, Kharkiv dominated the first half, which ended with Everton trailing 1-0 (2-1 on aggregate). A Joleon Lescott goal early in the first half was promptly negated by a Kharkiv goal. Now there was no possibility of overtime. A draw or win would put Everton through, but they needed a goal.
It came with less than 20 minutes to play from the foot of James McFadden, who has played out of his skin for Scotland’s national team and (when given the opportunity) for Everton. We added another at the end, as Kharkiv threw everyone forward in search of a goal. The final stats suggest that Kharkiv deserved better but, as Clint Eastwood says, deserves got nothing to do with it.
So now Everton will have its first experience in European group play. (We’ve only qualified for Europe once in the years since it has been instituted, and that year, 2005, we didn’t make it that far). Even if things go poorly, at least we’ll have gotten our money’s worth from Europe. But if we play to our potential, there’s no reason why things should go poorly in this second tier competition.
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