Stuttgart have narrowly advanced to the playoff round of the Europa League on away goals after a 0-0 draw. Good goalkeeping and a little bit of luck helped them survive Bulgarian outfit Botov Plovdiv.
After earning a 1-1 draw away in the first leg of their third round qualifying tie, Stuttgart could feel confident coming into the match on the front foot Thursday. The Swabians started a strong squad, including the midfield four of Alexandru Maxim, Gotoku Sakai, Christian Gentner and Ibrahima Traore.
But experience seemed to go out the window after the first kick. Plovdiv hardly looked like the outsiders, testing goalkeeper Sven Ulreich throughout the first half.
Stuttgart substituted Maxim at the break and replaced him with Martin Harnik, a move that immediately gave the side an attacking boost. But it was the visitors who came closest to scoring in the match.
In the 72nd minute, it looks like Boban Grncarov had directed a Yordan Hristov cross into the net from close range. The Macedonian defender began to celebrate putting the underdogs ahead, but the referee ruled the goal offside.
In stoppage time it was Ulreich who Stuttgart had to thank. The keeper made a fantastic low save to prevent substitute Luis Pedro from scoring the winner. Moments later the referee blew for full time and Stuttgart were through to the Europa League's playoff round, just barely.
European football takes shape
Joining Stuttgart in the Europa League this season are fellow Bundesliga clubs Eintracht Frankfurt and Freiburg. Due to their sixth place league finish last season, Frankfurt enter the competition at the playoff stage, while Freiburg did one better and go straight into the group stage.
As last season's fourth-place Bundesliga finishers, Schalke must survive the Champions League playoff to make the competition's lucrative group stage. Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen, who finished first through third respectively, go straight into that phase.
The first legs of the Champions League playoff will take place August 20 and 21, while the Europa League equivalent will be held August 22.