UEL: Late fightback earns crucial point
With a backing of 2000 strong Viennese, Rapid made the trip southwards on Thursday to take on US Sassuolo in the fourth round of matches in the UEFA Europa League. The game was played in Reggio Emilia, about half an hour from Sassuolo. The Italian outfit's temporary was a big factor in the somewhat sparcely populated terraces, with the travelling Rapid support accounting for roughly 25% of the entire crowd. Despite the low attendance, the match represented a crucial encounter in the battle to qualify for the knockout rounds: both teams stood on four points going into the clash, with any losing side thus having a mountain to climb in the final two group fixtures.
Rapid took to the field in an unfamiliar red and white strip, with the importance of the occasion certainly not lost on skipper Max Hofmann: "We simply must take something from the game", explained the captain prior to kick off in Italy. The game also represented by for the biggest occasion in young right back Manuel Thurnwald's fledgling career: the 18-year old was given the daunting task of coming into the fold from the reserves to make his debut in a continental setting after Mario Pavelic remained in Vienna owing to an injury. After the game had settled into a rhythm, it was the Hütteldorfers who began to carve out the best openings: Grahovac slid Thurnwald in down the right hand side of the Sassuolo defence, where the young debutant swung in an inviting ball towards Joelinton, who only managed to guide an unchallenged header wide of the target (12.). A shot from Thomas Murg was too central to trouble the home goalie (29.), whilst the hosts toiled in the final third and looked unlikely to threaten Richard Strebinger's goal. However, just after the half hour mark, intricate football on the edge of the Rapid penalty area led to Drefel being slid in on goal. After having barely had a sniff of goal Drefel cashed in, slamming his close range effort into the back of the net to give the Italians the lead (33.). The goal brought a confidence and security to Sassuolo's possession, and shortly before half time they bagged a fortunate second: a flat free kick from Pellegrini took a wicked deflection off the wall, leaving Strebinger stranded and the Italians celebrating a two - nil lead (45.).
Shortly after the restart, Rapid were indebted to Richard Strebinger for keeping hopes of a result alive as he pulled off two tremendous saves in quick succession, firstly repelling a free kick and then the rebound as Adjapong looked to turn add a third for his side and seal the three points (49.). With the game slipping away Mike Büskens and his trainer team reacted by introducing throwing strike duo Jelic and Kvilitaia into the fray just after the hour mark.
With the non-stop support of the raucous Green & White backing, Rapid set about trying to rescue a less than promising situation. Concrete chances remained at a premium though, with Louis Schaub's free kick providing some menace as Rapid struggled to exert consistent pressure on the opposition’s defence. But as the clock ticked down the never-say-die Rapid spirit came to the fore: with five minutes to play Matej Jelic handed the Hütteldorfers a lifeline when he turned in a rebound after home keeper Consigli spilled a free kick (85.). More drama was to follow too, with the current crop of Rapid stars recalling their forebears of yesteryear: Georgi Kvilitaia gathered the ball in the penalty area, and after seeing his first effort saved, stayed to cool and slotted home forced home the rebound - 2:2 (89.) and the travelling Green & White followers exploded into celebration as Rapid again pulled a crucial point back out of the fire as on so many occasions in years gone by!!!
The final whistle went shortly afterwards and Rapid’s late, late comeback had stolen a share of the spoils. Having looked dead and buried, Mike Büskens’ side had demonstrated that despite recent setbacks the old Rapid spirit is alive and well. The net result is that our group remains incredibly tight and qualification a real possibility, whilst the positive result will provide a confidence boost ahead of the weekend’s clash with WAC back in Vienna.
UEFA Europa League, 4th matchday:
US Sassuolo - SK Rapid 2:2 (2:0)
Reggio Emilia, Mapei Stadium, 8.000 Attendance, Ref Pawson (ENG)
Goals: 1:0 Defrel (34.) 2:0 Pellegrini, (45.) 2:1 Jelic (86.) 2:2 Kvilitaia (90.);
US Sassuolo: Consigli - Gazzola, Acerbi, Peluso - Lirola, Biondini, Pellegrini, Ragusa (81./Ricci), Adjapong - Defrel (91./Franchini), Matri (64./Politano);
SK Rapid: Strebinger - Thurnwald, Sonnleitner, M. Hofmann, Schrammel - Grahovac, Mocinic (85./Szanto) - Schaub, Murg (61./Jelic), Traustason - Joelinton (61./Kvilitaia);
Yellow Cards: Gazzola, Matri, Defrel, Ragusa, Peluso; Schaub, Sonnleitner, Mocinic, Kvilitaia;