After a relatively successful European campaign, as well as securing a second consecutive Belgian title last time out, Standard Liege came into this season’s Champions League with high hopes. Having automatically qualified for the group stage, the Belgian side were drawn alongside Arsenal, Olympiacos and AZ Alkmaar.
They probably reached the pinnacle of their Champions League campaign within five minutes of their opening match to Arsenal, with two early goals. Otherwise it was downhill from there, as three second half goals from the Gunners snatched victory, and that acted as a sign of things to come. The results that followed saw them take a point from AZ in Holland, and leave empty handed from their visit to Olympiacos.
They will still be having nightmares of throwing a 2 goal lead away
In the return match, goals from Congo’s Mbokani and Jovanovic of Serbia secured victory over the Greek champions. Defeat at the Emirates left them with faint hopes of progressing, and for that to happen, they would have to beat AZ Alkmaar, and hope the Gunners did them a favour in Greece. But after going 1-0 down in the first half, Dominique D’Onofrio’s side were sat at the bottom of the table. It was not until five minutes into injury time that they rescued the game, and subsequently a Europa League place. Goalkeeper Sinan Bolat trotted forward for a free-kick, and headed the equalizer. They would have liked to have continued in Europe’s elite competition, but beggars can’t be choosers.
Bolat’s last minute goal sent Standard into the Europa League
Red Bull Salzburg would be their opponents in the Europa League’s Round of 32. The first 45 minutes of the home first leg showed little hope for the Standard Liege fans. But a brace from Axel Witsel helped them do to the Austrian side what Arsenal did to them, and came back from 2-0 down to win 3-2. The side then showed they have more about them, as they went to Austria and did the job that needed to be done, with a 0-0 stalemate enough to send them through.
Standard will now play Panathinaikos in the Round of 16, and if they come away from Greece with something… anything to play for, you can’t write them off. Standard Liege are far from favourites to win the competition, and are not even favourites to overcome Panathinaikos, as shown by their 5-1 odds. But their first half performance against Arsenal showed they can match anybody on their day. With the likes of Liverpool and Valencia still in the competition, I think the best they can hope for is the quarter-finals.