UECL Quali: Stalemate in European Opener
A dominant performance from Rapid failed to pay off in the first leg, as Lechia Gdansk weathered a consistent second half storm to escape with a draw. The guests will be by far the happier of the teams after their defence dragged out a goalless result, but Rapid proved their strength and superiority, ahead of a difficult second leg next week.
With the first competitive game of the season out of the way with a hard-fought win in the ÖFB Cup, attentions quickly turned to Rapid’s European premiere for 2022/23; a UEFA Europa Conference League 2nd Round Qualifier against Polish side Lechia Gdansk. Although the game was shown on terrestrial TV thanks to coverage from the ORF, a fantastic crowd came to welcome the team in Hütteldorf, and their vociferous support was needed to drown out the sounds of the away fans in the corner of the stadium!
Lechia had breezed through the previous round, and would certainly be no pushovers. For that reason, and with three hurdles still in the way of the end goal of group stage football, Ferdinand Feldhofer added strength and depth to the squad over the summer. This match came too early for the recovering Ante Bajic, but Aleksa Pelic received his papers just in time to take his place in the midfield alongside youngster Moritz Oswald. Up front was the goal hero from the cup game, Guido Burgstaller, ably assisted by an attacking midfield trio of Nicolas Kühn, Berni Zimmermann and Marco Grüll.
With a tremendous atmosphere off the field, and the ball rolling on it, Rapid attempted to take the early initiative with a couple of through passes into the box, but both met the gloves of the visiting keeper just before Berni Zimmermann could get his foot in (8’, 10’). The first real test of the man in the Lechia goal came a few minutes later, when Marco Grüll slipped a low shot towards the back post from the edge of the area. It looked simple at first, but with the right placement, it had to be turned behind for a corner (14’). The upper hand remained with Rapid as Burgstaller smashed a long shot over the top (22’), but eventually Lechia started to settle on the ball, and they created the biggest chance of the evening when Ilkay Durmus got free on the left. His cross found the head of Flavio Paixao five yards out, but Rapid keeper Niki Hedl produced a point blank save of the highest order to keep the game all-square before the mandatory cooling break (25’).
The Green & Whites appeared to heed the warning signs, and with play restarted, a Rapid corner found its way to Burgstaller on the left of the area. He unleashed a fierce effort towards the near post, but it was bravely blocked by a defender in the grey of Gdansk (32’). It was clear from the early stages of the tie that this was, for now at least, a game between two evenly matched sides, so securing an advantage to take to Poland next week would be a matter of great importance. Rapid were generally resisting pressure well in defence, and combining as much as possible going forward, without being able to create many gilt-edged chances. A Martin Koscelnik effort followed from the home team’s sixth corner of the game, but it lacked the necessary power, and so the teams went in level at 0-0.
It was Lechia’s turn to have a few corners after the interval, and the glacial pace at which they set up suggested that a draw in Vienna would suit them just fine, yet they nearly had more, as a header from Emanuel Aiwu looped back onto the top of his own crossbar (49’). Rapid’s first good break of the second half saw Grüll play Burgstaller away down the left, Zimmermann took the ball in the box and was then felled by a heavy challenge from Christian Clemens (52’). Curiously, the referee immediately indicated that the defender had not made any contact with the ball, and yet also that he had not fouled the Rapid forward: goal kick. Soon after, Grüll also went to ground in the box as home frustrations grew, but so did the attacking intensity.
The Green & Whites were now camped in the Lechia half, and Head Coach Feldhofer made his first changes to back up the swell of new momentum. Grüll and Pejic went off for Christoph Knasmüllner and Nikolas Sattlberger (just 18 years of age!), with Koscelnik replaced by Thorsten Schick soon after (65’). A great chance for the opener would come only seconds later: Burgstaller’s clever switchback in the box opened space for Sattlberger, but after a blocked shot, our number 9 got onto the rebound and blazed high into the home fans, rather than into the net (67’). The changes continued, with Zimmermann off for Rene Kriwak (68’), but the home team’s authority didn’t let up.
A mix up at the back led to Kriwak’s first shot on the eve of the Rapid Quarter-Hour, but agonisingly, the Lechia defence recovered just in the nick of time to block it (74’). By now the ball was spending so much time in the opposition area, but the space for a clear sight at goal just refused to open up. Dragoljub Savic came on in the final phase as a last throw of the dice (84’), but the Rapid players remained patient on the ball, and another shot was driven goalwards by Schick, where it met a sea of defensive legs. Would there be a breakthrough in the end? A Sattlberger ball in was turned towards goal by a defender, but the keeper got down to it at the last moment, and time for a winner was slipping away (88’) on the verge of six added minutes.
Kriwak sent a header over the top deep into stoppage time as the team stuck to their task and never gave up, but ultimately there was to be disappointment for the home team, and elation for the away fans, as their team got away with a scarcely deserved draw. Next week, there’s plenty of action, with the season opener in the ADMIRAL Bundesliga against SV Ried, before the return leg in Gdansk. IT’S ALL TO PLAY FOR!
SK Rapid - Lechia Gdansk 0:0 (0:0)
Rapid: Hedl – Koscelnik (61./Schick), Aiwu, Wimmer, Moormann – Pejic (61./Sattlberger), Oswald – Kühn (84./Savic), Zimmermann (69./Kriwak), Grüll (61./Knasmüllner) – Burgstaller
Gdansk: Kuciak – Stec, Nalepa, Maloca, Pietrzak – Tobers (72./Kubicki) – Clemens (83./Sezonienko), Gajos, Terrazzino (66./Kaluzinski), Durmus (66./Conrado) – Paixao (66./Zwolinski)
Gelbe Karten: Koscelnik, Pejic bzw. Tobers