Galatasaray defeated Molde 3-2 in the first leg of their Champions League qualifying playoff, thanks to a beautiful goal by Mauro Icardi that he followed up with an unselfish assist, leading to the winner in stoppage time. Throughout the match, Icardi looked in good touch.
Icardi’s creative contributions have positioned the Turkish champion on the cusp of making a comeback to the lucrative group stage after a four-year absence. Notably, Icardi’s standout moment came in the 29th minute when he skilfully volleyed the ball into the net after receiving a well-placed pass from Yunus Akgün. This first-time shot over his right shoulder gave Galatasaray a crucial 2-1 lead.
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) August 24, 2023
Despite Molde taking the lead in the fifth minute and equalising early in the second half, they were defeated in the dying seconds of the match. Icardi broke through the defense and selflessly passed the ball across the goalmouth, allowing Norwegian midfielder Fredrik Midtsjo to secure the win by scoring into an empty net.
Midtsjo’s goal puts Norway’s unfortunate streak on the line, as no team from the country has advanced to the group stage since Rosenborg achieved it 16 years ago. The return game is scheduled in Istanbul next Tuesday, featuring two teams that have already progressed through two qualifying rounds.
Braga, holding a slender 2-1 lead, will face a challenging second leg in Greece after Panathinaikos managed to reduce the deficit with a goal in the fifth minute of added time. Midfielder Daniel Mancini’s goal revitalised Panathinaikos, a finalist in the 1971 European Cup, which has been absent from the group stage for 13 years.
Braga secured their lead through goals from Abel Ruiz in the 51st minute and Spanish winger Alvaro Djalo in the 73rd minute. These goals sandwiched a notable miss by Panathinaikos forward Andraz Sporar, who shot the ball over the unguarded goal.
In another match, Maccabi Haifa and Young Boys played to a goalless draw in a game with limited chances. The visiting Swiss champion failed to register a shot on target during the match. The winners of the second-leg matches on Tuesday will advance to the draw for the 32-team group stage, which is set to take place on August 31.