UECL: Fantastic First Leg vs Fiorentina
A full house awaited Rapid and Fiorentina on a beautiful Thursday evening in Hütteldorf for the UEFA Europa Conference League Play-Off first leg. Zoran Barišić wanted his Rapid team to give it everything against the high calibre opponents from Florence, and despite the difficulty of the task at hand, the aim was to secure a good starting position for the second leg. Maximilian Hofmann was back in the starting XI to cover for the injured Nenad Cvetković in defence, as the recovered Nic Kühn took up a spot on the bench. The Rapid lineup therefore consisted of 11 Austrian players, five of whom came through the club’s own youth system!
The atmosphere in the stadium was top drawer, and from the first minute on, every Green & White play was greeted with great cheers from the fans: goosebumps! The experienced Italians - finalists in this competition last season - put the pressure on from the start, but we had the first look at goal from a throw-in after five minutes, but there was nobody in the middle to seize the chance. Guido Burgstaller’s cross was the next moment of danger, Marco Grüll was there to meet it with a header which flew just wide (11’). Max Hofmann also placed a header over the top from a corner ball (19’) as Rapid continued to play well, defending with real intensity, and getting forward whenever possible.
The tempo remained high, and with the very next chance Thorsten Schick’s square ball was so close to finding Moritz Oswald in the centre, but he couldn’t quite reach it (21’). Fiorentina’s first real chance took 24 minutes to carve out, but Niki Hedl was able to react with a strong save. A Rapid delivery into the area led to another heated situation; Max Hofmann had his jersey stretched and pulled as he jostled for position, and despite the Fiorentina protests, a penalty was the only correct call. On his 110th competitive appearance for Rapid, Marco Grüll placed the ball on the spot, before dispatching it beautifully into the bottom-left corner of the goal! 1-0 Rapid (35’)! The stadium was rocking and the noise cranked up another notch now, with the team having fully deserved the amazing support that they were receiving. After matching the strong Italian opponents and now edging ahead, we went in at the interval with a 1-0 lead.
The high tempo match continued after the break, with the Serie A side pushing to find an equaliser, and coming out with even more motivation for the second half. However, our team competed for every inch of turf and threw themselves in for every ball. A cross from goal scorer Grüll was just too far in front of Burgstaller’s run (61’), as the guests continued to struggle to make clear cut chances at the other end (64’). Niki Hedl proved that he was still ready to respond though, with a good save (68’), before changes became necessary, not least on account of the heat.
Nic Kühn came on for Moritz Oswald (71’), before 23,000 Rapid fans applauded the start of the Rapid quarter-hour (75’) to support the side as they battled hard to hold out against the visitors. For the closing stages Ante Bajić replaced Grüll (82’), before Hedl made two more very decent stops look easy, as he kept Fiorentina at bay. Patrick Greil and Martin Moormann replaced Matthias Seidl and Jonas Auer (91’), and that was the last real action of the game!
After 94 minutes, the unbelievable support in Hütteldorf had helped the Green & Whites to an impressive 1-0 win! Bravo Rapid! With a strong, battling performance against a top Serie A side, we came away with a narrow win, and we can look forward to an even tougher task away in the second leg next Thursday (8pm KO). Keep going, Rapid!
Fotos: Red Ring Shots
UEFA Europa Conference League | Playoff | Weststadion
Tore: Grüll (35./E.)
Rapid-11: Hedl; Auer (90.+1. Moormann), Querfeld, Hofmann, Schick; Kerschbaum, Sattlberger; Grüll (82. Bajić), Seidl (90.+1. Greil), Oswald (71. Kühn); Burgstaller ©
Ersatz: Unger, Gartler, Greil, Strunz, Kühn, Mayulu, Sollbauer, Koscelník, Kaygin, Moormann, Bajić, Bajlicz