Edged out in a cup thriller
Rapid travelled to Styria to take on Sturm Graz on Wednesday night with a place in the final of the UNIQA ÖFB Cup Final at stake. Having won five on the bounce - including the glorious 4:0 win over Austria last time out - Goran Djuricin's side were full of confidence and determined to secure consecutive cup-final appearances. Nevertheless, an away fixture against Sturm Graz is never an easy assignment, particularly with the Black & Whites lying in second place in the Bundesliga table having been Salzburg's nearest challengers for the majority of the season.
Graz's Merkur Arena was sold out: fixtures between Rapid and Sturm often showcase just how atmospheric Austrian football can be at its best, and this evening was to prove no let down in that particular regard. Stephan Auer came back into the starting eleven at the expense of Mario Pavelic, but apart from the change at right-back there was no alterations to the side that had swept Austria Vienna aside on Sunday. With the support of a 2000-strong away backing, the Green & Whites set about their task from the off: Stefan Schwab played a beautifully crafted chip into the feet of Schobesberger in the area, who quickly brought the ball under to control only for his subsequent effort to be blocked by Sturm keeper Siebenhandl (7.). The hosts' first attack culminated in an off-target shot from Röcher (8.), before Zulj drew Richard Strebinger into action for the first time in the match (9.). The game swung back to the other penalty area, with Rapid fashioning a chance through Schaub for Bolingoli, whose arrowed drive missed the far corner by a matter of millimetres (11.).
A classic end-to-end cup tie was unfolding. The next chance again went the way of the Styrians, but Strebinger was well positioned and securely gathered ex-Rapid man Deni Alar's header from a cross (14.). Up until this point, Rapid had been controlling the match, but as the half wore on the home side grew in stature and wrested control of the game awat from the Hüttelorfers. When the first goal arrived it was a source of intense disappointment for all in Green & White: a huge clearance from Siebenhandl was allowed to bounce on the edge of the Rapid box, and with Auer and Bolingoli both failing to take responsibility, Sturm striker Edomwonyi breezed in unchallenged to take a touch and causally flick the ball past the helpless Strebinger - 0:1 (24.). Not long after another high, hopeful ball caused problems for Galvao, who flicked the ball over his own keeper and onto the crossbar. The ball bounced back into the danger zone, where it was hacked to safety by a panicked Strebinger, narrowly avoiding another disaster. Rapid were struggling but clung on, and when the half-time whistle did go it came as something of a relief.
The Hütteldorfers emerged for the second period an entirely different animal: more aggressive, quicker to the ball, and surer in possession. The first indication of a Rapid comeback arrived a minute after the break, as Schobesberger fed Schaub, with Siebenhandl managing to clear before Schaub could get the ball fully under control. Kvilitaia came on for Berisha, and went close after good work from Schobesberger as Goran Djuricin's side worked their way right back into contention (55.). Then, it arrived: a weaving run from Murg ended with the forward threading a superb reverse pass through to Kvilitaia, who took the shot first time, drawing a smart stop from Siebenhandl. The ball rebounded out back into the penalty area, where Louis Schaub was on hand to gobble up the chance and tap in to an empty net - 1:1 (59.)!
But the celebrations ringing out for the away end had barely begun in earnest before Strebinger was again picking the ball out of the back of the net: more sloppy defending allowed Edomwonyi to stroll in behind the Rapid defence and latch onto a pass, before again comfortably beating the exposed Strebinger in a 1-on-1 situation - 1:2 (62.). That Louis Schaub was the Hütteldorfer who tracked the goal scorer’s run and was the closest to getting a foot in underlined the disappointing nature of the goal. Rapid fought back though and pushed for the equaliser: Schaub had a goal correctly ruled out for offside; whilst Manuel Thurnwald - on in place of Auer - burst into the penalty area and hammered a shot narrowly wide of the far post (75.). A goal for the Green & Whites was in the offing…
With the clock ticking down Rapid continued to ramp up the pressure: A low ball from Schaub across the goal mouth was cleared by last ditch defending (81.), but finally the pressure would tell. From a corner, Gio Kvilitaia rose highest, and with Siebenhandl misjudging the flight of the ball, the Georgian headed into an empty net to spark wild celebrations – 2:2 and the game headed into extra time!
The start of the additional half-hour afforded both goalkeepers chances to shine: firstly, Kvilitaia muscled his way into the penalty area and a shooting chance only to be denied by an excellent stop from Siebenhandl, who used his feet to get down to the ball (93.). At the other end Spendlhofer powered what looked an unstoppable header goalwards, only for Strebinger to produce an incredible acrobatic save to keep the scores tied at 1:1 (97.)! Despite Strebinger’s heroics, heart break lay just round the corner: a deep ball down the left flank set Röcher off in a foot race with Thurnwald, and with the Sturm man showing greater desire and determination, he kept the ball in play, whipping a wicked cross into the penalty area where it was glanced into the net via the head of Eze - 2:3 (102.).
A now jaded Rapid side tried to muster one last fight back, but despite the introduction of a third striker in the shape of Armin Mujakic they couldn't find a way to open up the steady Sturm defence. The home side had a few chances to put the game to bed on the counter, but it was immaterial: the final whistle went, and a courageous performance from Rapid had ended in the narrowest of defeats and an exit from the cup at the semi-final stage.
UNIQA ÖFB Cup:
SK Sturm Graz - SK Rapid 3:2 (1:0)
Merkur Arena, 15.750 Attendance, Ref Schörgenhofer
Goals: 1:0 Edomwonyi (24.), 1:1 Schaub (58.), 2:1 Edomwonyi (62.), 2:2 Kvilitaia (84.), 3:2 Eze (102.);
SK Sturm Graz: Siebenhandl - Koch, Spendlhofer, Maresic, Hierländer - Röcher, Jeggo, P. Zulj (117./Lovric), Jantscher (73./Huspek) - Alar (120./Schulz), Edomwonyi (87./Eze);
SK Rapid: Strebinger - Auer (68./Thurnwald), M. Hofmann, Galvao, Bolingoli (117./Sonnleitner) - Schwab, Ljubicic - Schaub, Murg, Ve. Berisha (53./Kvilitaia) - Schobesberger (104./Mujakic);
Yellow Cards: Röcher, Hierländer, Zulj, Eze; Schwab, Thurnwald
Yellow-Red Card: M. Hofmann (122.);