Narrow 0:1 defeat keeps tie alive ahead of San Siro clash
As matches to usher back in the return of competitive football go, Thursday's showdown could hardly have been bigger: not only were Rapid competing in the last-32 of the UEFA Europa League, the opposition were Italian heavyweights Inter Milan. The glamour tie set local pulses racing, with a raucous 24,850 in attendance in the sold-out Allianz Stadium. In the 12th minute three of the four stands became a shimmering sea of green and white, as the Block West choreography extended beyond their own stamping ground to engulf the entire stadium. The fans had reacted to the magnitude of the occasion - could the players do the same on the pitch?
Despite high-profile absentees, the Nerazzurri boasted a team and squad packed with international stars. But Rapid also had their own squad issues to deal with: Christopher Dibon was missing after picking up a sideband injury and will now be unavailable for a considerable time. Didi Kühbauer selected Manuel Thurnwald on the right flank, with Veton Berisha up front, in a formation designed to be compact and solid that had been hinted at during the build-up to the game. Srdjan Grahovac was drafted into midfield to make his second "debut" for the club, behind Dejan Ljubicic and the more creative duo of Stefan Schwab and Andrei Ivan.
It was with an understandable level of caution that the Hütteldorfers approached the opening minutes, as they sought to keep Inter at bay while seeing what their illustrious opponents had to offer as an attacking unit. The Green & Whites did well to remain compact and keep the Italians at arms-length, with only a free-kick from Perisic (15.) causing concern for Richard Strebinger in the Rapid goal. There were few chances at either end during the majority of the first half, with Rapid briefly looking dangerous when Berisha threatened to get on the end of a searching cross into the box (30.). Mario Sonnleitner then suffered a head injury; thankfully the experienced centre back was able to continue sporting a bandaged-up head.
With the game drifting towards half-time, Inter stole ahead from a nothing situation: Perisic drove into the box, before tripping over his own feet, falling forwards and cleaning up Marvin Potzmann in the process. The ball fell to Thurnwald, whose heavy touch allowed Martinez to nip in ahead of him before he lunged into the Inter man and conceded a penalty. It was a hard call on Rapid, who made the case that Potzmann had been impeded in the build-up to the penalty, but the referee was un-moved and Martinez stepped up to take the kick himself, slamming the ball down the middle as Strebinger dived to his left - 0:1 (39.). The goal separated the sides as the whistle went for half-time.
There were no changes to the line-up for the start of the second period, and little change to the pattern of the game: Rapid conceded possession to Inter, who struggled to manufacture clear-cut chances with it. The game burst into life on the hour mark, when firstly Vecino sent a headed chance over the bar (60.), before Rapid produced their best move of the game: the ball was fed into substitute Philipp Schobesberger in the box, who held on just long enough to allow Berisha to overlap. Berisha played a low, first-time ball to Knasmüllner at the near post, who produced an instinctive first-time shot that drew an outstanding close range save from Handanovic (66.)! The final chance of the evening went the way of the guests, as Nainggolan shot well wide from a promising position after been found by Ivan Perisic (74.).
There was no lack of effort in the closing stages from Rapid, but further chances failed to materialise. Nonetheless, there was little to separate to the two sides, and the Green & Whites will travel to Milan in a week’s time feeling that it is within their capabilities to produce a European upset. RAPID!!
UEFA Europa League:
SK Rapid - Inter 0:1 (0:1)
Weststadion, 23.850 Attendance, Ref Stieler
Goal: 0:1 Martinez (39./Penalty)
SK Rapid: Strebinger – Potzmann, Sonnleitner, Hofmann, Bolingoli – Grahovac (65. Knasmüllner), Ljubicic – Thurnwald (53. Schobesberger), Schwab, Ivan – Berisha (81. Murg);
Inter: Handanovic – Cedric, De Vrij, Miranda, Asamoah – Vecino, Valero – Politano (78. Candreva) Nainggolan (81. D’Ambrosio), Perisic – Martinez;
Yellow Cards: Sonnleitner, Hofmann, Potzmann, Berisha; Martinez, Cedric Soares, D’Ambrosio, Candreva;