Stuttgart have suffered a painful defeat away to the Croatian club Rijeka in the two sides' Europa League playoff. Eintracht Frankfurt, however, marked their return to European football with a 2-0 win in Azerbaijan.
Poor finishing and great goalkeeping ended up costing Stuttgart in their 2-1 loss to Rijeka on Thursday. The Swabians frequently created opportunities, only to be let down by their execution in the final third. Instead it was their Croatian opponents who made the most of their chances on the day.
The two sides traded shots early on at the Stadion Kantrida. Five minutes in, ex-Nuremberg striker Leon Benko forced Stuttgart goalkeeper Sven Ulreich to make an excellent save with a close range shot. Moments later, Cacau's shot on the other end was tipped just wide by Ivan Vargic.
It would be the hosts' best opportunity of the first half. Stuttgart's Martin Harnik and Christian Gentner would go on to test Vargic, but after 45 minutes it remained scoreless.
It took until the 74-minute mark for the deadlock to finally be broken. Benko, who was dangerous all match, put the hosts ahead when he nodded a Ivan Tomecak cross past Ulreich and into the net.
It was a deserved lead for Rijeka, who, unlike Stuttgart, had made the most of their chances in front of goal. The German visitors responded by throwing more men into the attack, a move that would cost them dearly in the 87th minute.
Taking advantage of a counter attack, Benko was put through on the right side of goal. He drew Ulreich out of position before laying the ball off to Zoran Kvrzic who finished easily into an empty net.
Just two minutes later Stuttgart grabbed a crucial away goal through Vedad Ibisevic. Christian Gentner sent a low ball across goal that looked more like a misplaced shot, and Ibisevic was there to tap it in. The Bosnian striker looked like he might have been offside, but the referee allowed to the goal to stand.
Stuttgart weren't finished, and continued to attack Rijeka with all they had. Unforunately for them, Vargic was having a wonderful game in goal. He did well to stop two shots from Ibisevic and Christian Molinaro in the dying moments of stoppage time, preserving the 2-1 win for the Croatians.
The victory gives Rijeka a crucial one-goal lead heading into the return leg in Germany on August 29.
Frankfurt win in Azerbaijan
It took Eintracht Frankfurt seven years to return to European competition, but just six minutes to score their first goal. The Eagles began the opening fixture of their Europa League playoff tie against FK Qarabag in Azerbaijan, picking up a deserved win.
Alex Meier got Frankfurt off to an early start. A ball from Stefan Aigner into the box bounced towards the big man, who twisted to send a trademark side-volley into the top corner of the net.
From then on, the German visitors sat back and controlled the match. Qarabag created a few dangerous opportunities, most of which went through Dutch winger Leroy George. On the hour mark Maurem Maurem redirected a George cross into the box, but the shot went straight at goalkeeper Kevin Trapp for an easy save.
The effort was a sign of things to come for Qarabag, who put together a good run of attacking pressure as the half wore on.
But Meier took the wind out of the hosts' sails when he doubled Frankfurt's lead in the 75th minute. Picking up the ball on the left side of the box, he powered his way towards the end line before firing across goal and past keeper Miro Varvodic.
The second goal put the score firmly in Frankfurt's favor, and a lone volley from Vuqar Nadirov in the 84th minute proved to be the only threatening chance Qarabag could muster in the final moments of the match. It finished 2-0, a fair result for the Bundesliga club.
Frankfurt's pair of goals sends them into the return fixture with plenty of confidence in a tie they were always expected to win. Now, just 90 minutes separates them from the Europa League group stage.
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