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Romanian football has reported a new all-time low record, this time in Champions League. For the first time in history, the Romanian champion was knocked out in the first preliminary round. On Wednesday, CFR Cluj lost 3-4 the match played on home turf against the Armenian champions, Piunik Yerevan. The match was played on home turf and the final score was set after extra time and the penalty shootout. The score in the first leg had been 0-0.
The match had a cliffhanging ending. Bismark Adjei-Boateng of Ghana had scored the first goal for CFR on minute 6. Then, for the next 80 minutes, the team from Cluj dominated the game, missing a few good scoring opportunities, all denied by Armenian goalkeeper David Yurchenko, perhaps the best player on the field on Wednesday. On Minute 89, Piunik evened the odds with a goal scored by Zoran Gajić of Serbia. At 1-1 the match was pushed into extra time. CFR scored again on minute 94, but Piunik was awarded a penalty kick on minute 107, when Andrei Burcă performed an illegal tackle on David Davidian in the penalty area. Hovhanes Harutiunian executed the penalty kick, but it was saved by Cristian Bălgrădean. On minute 119, however, Zoran Gajić made it 2-2, and the match now moved to the penalty shootout. CFR missed two penalty kicks, Piunik scored every penalty kick and won 4-3.
Failure to qualify to the Champions League second preliminary round also deals a heavy financial blow to CFR Cluj. The top inter-club competition offers the highest prizes, worth millions of EUR, to teams that qualify to superior stages. Last year, for instance, after defeating Borac Banja Luka of Bosnia and qualifying to the second round, CFR was awarded 660 thousand EUR. Had it qualified to the group phase, the Romanian champions would have won over 15 million EUR.
Following Wednesday's result, Piunik Yerevan will now play F91 Dudelange of Luxembourg in the second preliminary round of Champions League. CFR Cluj will play in the second preliminary round of Conference League, taking on Inter Club d'Escaldes of Andorra. The first leg will be played on July 21 on home turf and the return leg on July 28 away from home. (VP)
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