Pantelis Kapetanos’ first-half header sufficed as the Romanian side reached the group stage for the third time in five seasons.A powerful header from Pantelis Kapetanos sparked jubilant scenes as CFR 1907 Cluj overcame FC Basel 1893 to reach the UEFA Champions League group stage for the third time in five years.
The Greek striker’s effort allowed CFR to build on Modou Sougou’s two away goals from the first leg and complete an impressive 3-1 aggregate victory. Heiko Vogel’s side were unable to produce the sort of form that took them to last season’s round of 16, and were left to rue Alexander Frei’s missed penalty, which could have changed course of the play-off.
CFR coach Ioan Androne had said before the match that winning through qualifying would mean as much as securing a domestic title and it was clear his club’s players and fans felt the same way amid emotional celebrations at the final whistle.
Basel’s cause was not helped by the absence of Egyptian midfielder Mohamed Salah through injury, but they began full of the attacking endeavour that could be expected of the Swiss league’s leading scorers.
The experienced duo of Marco Streller and Alexander Frei were a live threat for the visitors, and the latter went close early on with a curling effort that drifted over the bar. However, CFR had no intention of sitting back on their 2-1 first-leg advantage and, despite conceding the majority of possession, looked dangerous on the break.
It was one such counter midway through the half that found Diogo Valente in space on the left. Given time to cross, the Portuguese midfielder picked out Kapetanos who rose above the defence to head home in spectacular fashion for his fourth goal of the season.
The goal left Basel still needing to score twice as a minimum requirement, and they were presented with a fantastic opportunity to reduce the arrears moments before the interval. Streller was brought down by the advancing Mário Felgueiras, but Frei fired the resulting penalty high over the bar.
Basel have made the group stage for the past two seasons and refused to surrender that record easily but, for all their hard work, they struggled to create many clear chances in the second period. Substitute Cabral came closest with a 20-metre strike that had the home goalkeeper at full stretch, while defender Aleksandar Dragovic narrowly missed the target with a header.