UECL: Druijf Header Downs Neftci in Extra Time
Goals from Marco Grüll and the returning Ferdy Druijf saw Rapid turn around a 2-1 deficit at home in Hütteldorf. After taking the game to extra time, the Green & Whites made their chances count in the end, to set up a tie with FC Vaduz of Liechtenstein and move to within touching distance of the UEFA Europa Conference League group stages.
In the second leg of the UEFA Europa Conference League 3rd Qualifying Round, our team played host to Neftci Baku on Thursday evening. The away match did not go according to plan (ending with a 2-1 defeat), so this time the result had to be a positive one if we were to stand a chance in the tie. In the past, Rapid players have proven time and again that they are capable of comebacks with the support of the Rapid fans behind them, so confidence levels were still high ahead of the game. A two-goal difference would be required to overcome the hurdle and reach the play-off stage, and we felt that it was possible. Ferdinand Feldhofer still had to do without Dejan Petrovic, Martin Moormann and Lion Schuster as well as Aleksa Pejic, who was suspended for the game. However, Roman Kerschbaum, Yusuf Demir and Ferdy Druijf were all in the squad for the first time after recovering from their injuries! With the target in sight, we were hoping for a magical European evening…
...and our team came out onto the pitch with a lot of self-confidence and drive towards the goal, exerting great pressure on the opponent's defence in the first few minutes. Patrick Greil took aim from outside the penalty area and had a shot (9'), before Nic Kühn brought a square ball under control well and found himself alone in front of goal, but he missed the target by millimeters (12'). The pressure continued with another good attacking move; Guido Burgstaller sent Ante Bajic away, but he also put the ball just past the post (15') - the early chances were there, yet the goal was still missing. The guests, however, played with the time, staying down an extra half a minute after every little collision. In the 27th minute, the ball could have ended up in the goal twice, first captain Maxi Hofmann planted a header onto the crossbar, and for the second ball, Nikolas Sattlberger wanted to nudge it over the goal line, but at the last moment a defender stopped him! Only four minutes later we hit the woodwork again, Nic Kühn used his speed, lifted the ball over the goalkeeper and hit the crossbar - after 32 minutes we had already had eight scoring chances, the ninth followed only one minute later courtesy of Guido Burgstaller (33'). Was it going to be one of those days? That was to be the last notable opportunity for our team before the break, Niki Hedl kept the scores at 0-0 with a brilliant save (37'), so at half time we still trailed 2-1 on aggregate.
After the break, too, the game was dominated by the Green & White offence, as expected. Nic Kühn came close from an Ante Bajic cross (49'), before Nikolas Sattlberger delivered a precise shot directly into the hands of the keeper (51'). Ferdinand Feldhofer reacted and looked for fresh momentum; after his injury break Yusuf Demir came onto the field in place of Ante Bajic (57'). Just ten minutes later it was finally time: Nic Kühn played a textbook long ball into the penalty area towards Marco Grüll, who hammered the ball into the net, GOAL - 1-0 (67')! There it was, the well deserved lead on the night! Almost at the same time as the goal came the next change, for the first time in the jersey of the first team, Roman Kerschbaum came on (68'). Three minutes later, luck was on our side when the guests missed a massive chance and pushed a dangerous cross wide of the goal (71'). The Azerbaijanis were now also trying to find their way to the box, which made the tension in the stadium even greater. In the 80th minute, Guido Burgstaller had the decisive goal at his mercy, but again a defender cleared on the line (80'). After 86 minutes, Nic Kühn's workday was over, and after his own injury break Ferdy Druijf came on, and he had a good chance right after his substitution. In stoppage time we had the perfect free kick position, Yusuf Demir put the ball down for himself, but he turned the shot over the bar (91'). And there it was, the final whistle - with an aggregate score of 2-2, we had at least forced the tie into extra time.
Jonas Auer was on to provide a breath of fresh air in extra time in place of Thorsten Schick (91'), but the first chance went to the visitors, and the aluminum saved our play-off hopes following a free kick (92'). In the 99th minute, Moritz Oswald came on for Nikolas Sattlberger, but by now it was understandable that our team was running out of steam. For the second half of extra time, Feldhofer's eleven once again gathered all their reserves for a final push. Guido Burgstaller placed a precise shot on goal, but the keeper was able to push it away with his fingertips (106'). Moritz Oswald also let fly, but unfortunately hammered the finish over the goal (108'). Still, after all that, it took less than five minutes and finally, the second goal came along: Jonas Auer played in the accurate cross, and fellow substitute Ferdy Druijf leapt up and nodded the ball in from close range, GOOOALLL, 2-0 (113')!
After a nerve-racking 120 minutes and an aggregate score of 3-2, our passage into the play-off for the UEFA Europa Conference League was fixed - Bravo Rapid, we can certainly do comebacks! The next match will be next week (August 18th) against FC Vaduz from Liechtenstein!
UEFA Europa Conference League | 3. Qualifikationsrunde - Rückspiel | Weststadion
Tore: Grüll (67.), Druijf (113.)
Rapid-11: Hedl; Koscelnik, Wimmer, Hofmann ©, Schick (91. Auer); Greil (68. Kerschbaum), Sattlberger (99. Oswald); Grüll, Kühn (86. Druijf), Bajic (57. Demir); Burgstaller
Ersatz: Unger, Gartler; Kerschbaum, Knasmüllner, Demir, Sollbauer, Auer, Oswald, Druijf, Kriwak, Zimmermann, Querfeld