RSC Anderlecht grabbed the top spot in Belgium's Jupiler League on Saturday, and now the Brussels-based club aims for something bigger -- and in uncompromising conditions.
The Zebras are in Russia, for Wednesday's UEFA Europa League clash with Zenit St. Petersburg, and a victory will all but assure them a spot in next year's knockout phase.
Huntington Beach's Sacha Kljestan (Huntington Beach HS) was back in the starting lineup for Anderlecht's 4-1 victory over last-place Royal Charleroi, and he's in the 20-man traveling party for Wednesday's game, which will be played in temperatures hovering just above zero.
"It will be a tough match, in exceptional weather conditions that we are not used to," Anderlecht general manager Herman Van Holsbeeck said, according to British website SportingLife.com. "In normal circumstances, Zenit has a very strong team, and that has been seen in this Europa League campaign, when they have not dropped a single point in their games so far. It's also a team which has the qualities that you need to play in the Champions League."
Zenit (4-0-0), which on Sunday completed its title run in Russia's Premier League, already has clinched one of Group G's two slots in the round of 32. Anderlecht (1-2-1), Greece's AEK Athens (1-2-1) and Croatia's Hajduk Split (1-3-0) are battling for the last. The Belgians own the tiebreaker with AEK and can claim a knockout-phase berth with an upset over Zenit.
"Who knows?" Van Holsbeeck said. "Maybe they still have a bit of the title celebrations in their legs and we have a chance."
If Anderlecht loses, a victory at home over Hajduk Split likely would be enough to advance, although the Zebras mights need some help from Zenit.
Kljestan had started seven successive games for Anderlecht after sitting out two months because of injury and indifferent form, then came off the bench in victories Nov. 13 at KAA Gent and Nov. 20 at Germinal Beerschot. The attacking midfielder, who joined the Belgian champion from Chivas USA last summer, played the full 90 in the victory over Charleroi.
Anderlecht is 11-2-4 in the Jupiler League, one point ahead of Racing Genk (11-3-3), which was beaten, 2-1, by third-place KAA Gent (10-5-2).
ETC.: Brad Friedel made two superb stops on Marouane Chamakh in Aston Villa's 4-2 loss to Arsenal. … Yura Movsisyan (Pasadena HS) made his first start in nearly a month for Denmark's Randers, which was blasted, 3-0, by SAS-Ligaen leader FC Copenhagen. The former MLS forward made his return from a toe injury last week, coming off the bench against Lyngby. ... Matt Taylor's goal-scoring streak ended at four games in the 3.Bundesliga as Rot Weiss Ahlen lost, 4-0, at Rot Weiss Erfurt in the battle of Red/Whites. Ahlen had won all four games in which Taylor (Irvine HS), a former Chivas USA forward, had scored. ... Dallas Moore scored for both sides, with his first goal (and first own goal) of the season, in Halesowen Town's 5-3 win over Brackley Town in England's Southern League Premier Division.
AREA PLAYERS IN EUROPE
D CARLOS BOCANEGRA (Alta Loma/UCLA)
Club: Saint-Etienne (France, Ligue 1)
Last week: 90 minutes at left back as the Les Verts (5-4-5) dropped to 12th following a 1-1 draw Saturday at AS Nancy Lorraine
Season: 10 games (10 starts) in Ligue 1, 11 games (11 starts) in all competitions
Next: Wednesday at 14th-place Valenciennes (4-4-6), Sunday vs. seventh-place Girondins Bordeaux (6-4-5)
M MICHAEL BRADLEY (Manhattan Beach)
Club: Borussia Moenchengladbach (Germany, Bundesliga)
Last week: 90 minutes as last-place Die Fohlen (2-8-4) were routed, 4-1, Saturday by first-place Borussia Dortmund
Season: 14 league games (14 starts) with 2 goals; 16 games (16 starts) with 3 goals in all competitions
Next: Saturday vs. fourth-place Hannover 96 (8-5-1)
D JAY DENNY (Santa Monica)
Club: Hednesford Town (England, Southern League Premier Division)
Last week: Saturday's game vs. Bashley was postponed because of a frozen field
Season: 18 league games (16 starts), 4 cup games (3 starts) with 1 goal, 22 games (19 starts) with 1 goal in all competitions
Next: Saturday at eighth-place Windsor & Eton (6-2-10)
M MAURICE EDU (Fontana)
Club: Rangers FC (Scotland, Premier Division)
Last week: Sunday's game at Dundee United was postponed by snow and a frozen field
Season: 12 league games (10 starts) with 1 goal, 4 UEFA CL games (4 starts) with 1 goal, 17 games (15 starts) with 2 goals in all competitions
Next: Saturday vs. third-place Hearts (8-4-2)
M BENNY FEILHABER (Irvine/UCLA)
Club: AGF Aarhus (Denmark, 1.Division)
Last week: League is on winter break
Season: 14 league games (14 starts) with 4 goals, 17 games (16 starts) overall with 7 goals
Next: March 20 vs. 11th-place Hobro (5-7-3)
G BRAD FRIEDEL (Bay Village, Ohio/UCLA)
Club: Aston Villa (England, Premier Division)
Last week: 90 minutes, making three saves, as the Villans (4-6-5) fell to 15th with a 4-2 loss to visiting Arsenal
Season: 15 league games (15 starts), 24 goals allowed, 52 saves, 4 shutouts; 16 games (16 starts), 25 goals allowed, 58 saves, 4 shutouts in all competitions
Next: Wednesday at Birmingham City in a League Cup quarterfinal, Monday at 10th-place Liverpool (5-6-4)
M SACHA KLJESTAN (Huntington Beach)
Club: RSC Anderlecht (Belgium, Jupiler League)
Last week: 90 minutes as Les Mauves et Blancs (11-2-4) climbed atop the Jupiler League standings with a 4-1 romp Saturday over Royal Charleroi
Season: 9 league games (6 starts) with 2 goals; 15 games (12 starts) with 3 goals in all competitions
Next: Wednesday at Zenit St. Petersburg in UEFA Europa League Group G play, Sunday at 11th-place ZulteWaregem (4-4-9)
D DALLAS MOORE (Santa Monica)
Club: Halesowen Town FC (England, Southern League Premier Division)
Last week: 90 minutes as captain, with a 50th-minute goal and 65th-minute own goal, as the 17th-place Yeltz (4-8-5) on Saturday topped Brackley Town, 5-3
Season: 12 league games (12 starts) with 1 goal
Next: Saturday vs. sixth-place Chesham United (8-4-5)
F YURA MOVSISYAN (Pasadena/Pasadena City College)
Club: Randers (Denmark, SAS-Ligaen/Superliga)
Last week: 90 minutes, with a yellow card, as the Horses (3-6-9) fell to 10th with a 3-0 loss Sunday to first-place FC Copenhagen
Season: 16 league games (14 starts) with 5 goals, 24 games (19 starts) with 14 goals in all competitions
Next: Sunday at seventh-place Sonderjyske (6-9-3)
F MATT TAYLOR (Irvine/UCLA)
Club: Rot Weiss Ahlen (Germany, 3. Bundesliga)
Last week: Started, played 68 minutes, as Rot Weiss (5-5-7) dropped to 10th with a 4-0 loss Saturday to Rot Weiss Erfurt
Season: 11 league games (11 starts) with 7 goals, 1 cup game (1 start), 12 games (12 starts) with 7 goals in all competitions
Next: Saturday vs. first-place Hansa Rostock (13-3-2)