Man City, Moenchengladbach cruise into Champions League
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND >> Manchester City and Borussia Moenchengladbach built on commanding first-leg advantages to cruise through the Champions League playoffs on Wednesday, while Russian side Rostov thrashed Ajax 4-1 to reach the group stage for the first time.
City will play a sixth straight season in Europe's elite competition after beating Steaua Bucharest 1-0 thanks to Fabian Delph's 56th-minute goal and completing a 6-0 win on aggregate. Goalkeeper Joe Hart made what could be his last start for City after losing his regular place under new coach Pep Guardiola.
"We have a top manager that the club has wanted a long, long time, and he's going to have his opinion on things," said Hart, who was given a rousing reception by City fans and appeared emotional during and at the end of the match.
"It's a place I love to be," he added, "but situations occur in football. We're men, we get on with it."
Raffael and Thorgan Hazard scored hat tricks as Moenchengladbach routed Young Boys 6-1 for a 9-2 win on aggregate, sealing an immediate return to the group stage for the German side.
Both Germany and England will have a full quota of four teams in Thursday's draw. City, a semifinalist last season, will be one of the second seeds.
Rostov advanced 5-2 on aggregate over Ajax — a four-time European champion — in its first season trying to qualify for the Champions League. FC Copenhagen is back in the group stage for the second time in four years, after scoring an 86th-minute equalizer to draw 1-1 with APOEL and progress 2-1 on aggregate.
Dinamo Zagreb was the last team to go through, beating Salzburg 2-1 after extra time to advance 3-2 on aggregate. The Croatian team equalized in the 87th minute through Junior Fernandes to take the match to extra time before El Arabi Hilal Soudani grabbed the winner in the 95th minute.
City did the damage with a 5-0 win in Romania last week, allowing Guardiola to rest most of his first-choice players including Sergio Aguero — the scorer of a first-leg hat trick.
In an exercise in damage limitation, Steaua played with 10 men behind the ball and limited City to half chances until Jesus Navas cross for Delph to head home.
City lost striker Kelechi Iheanacho to injury in the second half, but the game was overshadowed by Hart's appearance in goal and emotional scenes after the final whistle when he grabbed the badge on his jersey and saluted the crowd. Hart bit his lip at one stage in the second half when City fans chanted his name.
City is close to purchasing goalkeeper Claudio Bravo from Barcelona, which likely would spell the end of Hart's decade-long career at Etihad Stadium. Guardiola doesn't think Hart is good enough with his feet, has told the England international he can leave, and has played Willy Caballero ahead of Hart so far this season.
"I know he is a legend for this club," Guardiola said. "But I am here to take decisions. I make a lot of mistakes — my decisions as a coach are sometimes good, sometimes bad, but I take decisions.
"I try to be honest with myself. I can't deny what I feel. I was honest with Joe, the club and all the players in the squad. The people must follow me."
Hart gave little away about his future, saying: "Outside of the charade and all the rubbish that's talked, we are dealing it like men inside, and we are going to come up with a solution."
Told he had a 100 percent pass completion record on the night, Hart laughed and said: "Pigs do fly, don't they?"
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