Sturm Graz dropped a point in the Europa League after a combative performance against Italian club Atalanta Bergamo. The offensively inoffensive football runners-up had to concede a narrow but deserved 0-1 (0-0) defeat on Thursday. For Christian Elzer’s side, it was the second defeat in their fourth Group D match, significantly reducing their chances of qualifying for the knockout stage in Europe’s second-highest competition.
In front of 14,739 fans in the persistent rain in Lombardy, Berat Gemseti (50th) became the match-winner for the favored Italians. A late equalizer, as happened in the 2-2 draw in the first leg in Graz, was not achieved this time. But Gian Piero Gasperini’s side secured their place in the Europa League as leaders with ten points. Since Sporting (7) won 2-1 (1-0) in the parallel match against Rakov Czestochowa (1) thanks to a long majority, Sturm (4) needs at least one win in the head-to-head match in Portugal to finish second. . However, in order to spend the winter internationally and switch to the conference league, a third place finish is sufficient.
There were two recent league defeats to Vienna Austria (0:1) and LASK (1:3), so Elzer wanted to “improve” the performance in Bergamo. The attacking coach changed his formation to make things difficult for the team ranked fifth in the Italian League in a 4-2-2-2 formation. In central midfield, Dimitri Lavallee moved into suspended captain Stefan Herlander’s starting line-up, and the Belgian formed a six-man duo with John Gorenc Stankovic. At the top, striker Simon Wlodarczyk returns to the top eleven.
The 800 Sturm fans who traveled with us enjoyed the dubious privilege of having no roof over their heads at the Joyce Stadium, in a temporary section outside the stadium due to renovation work. The players in black and white tried hard in the early stages to put their supporters in a better mood. Due to their gritty playing style, the Styrians were initially the more attacking team, but without creating any scoring chances. It took 14 minutes for the match to be completed for the first time, but Rafael Tolui’s shot flew over the goal.
Ilzer’s side dismantled the Blues from Bergamo with complete football, but Graz quickly finished off their few counter-attacking chances. There were few truly dangerous penalty area scenes at first. In the 31st minute, Stankovic parried a Gemseti header for a corner kick, and five minutes later Wlodarczyk fired home from an offside position. Shortly afterwards, Lavallee’s corner kick narrowly missed the target (39).
After the break, Atalanta immediately pressed for the lead, which fell in the 50th minute. After a corner kick that caused chaos in the Storm penalty area, the Graz team was unable to get the ball out of the danger zone and Djemseti scored an unstoppable shot by goalkeeper Kjell Scherben. The Italians continued to pull the trigger, and David Schenig blocked Ademola Lookman’s shot (56). The lead was now deserved, as Graz had little control over the game and were forced to defuse several Atalanta attacks.
The “Joker” Luis Muriel, who scored two goals in Graz, missed from a good position (69), and Mario Pasalic, who was also a substitute, scored 2-0 with a Hateboer pass from close range. Just like Teon Koopmeinerz shortly afterwards (74), Ederson, whose shot was saved by Scherben (83) and again Pasalic, whose shot was saved by Gazibegovic (87). In stoppage time, Scherbin once again strongly blocked Pasalic’s shot (91st). Elzer’s team was unable to shoot at the opponent’s goal, only a shot from Tommy Horvat went wide of the goal (63).
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