Saint-Etienne held by Olexandriya, Rennes out
AS Saint-Etienne were moments away from their their first UEFA Europa League Group I win after goals from Wahbi Khazri and Mahdi Camara, but FC Olexandriya fought back to draw 2-2 at the CSC Nika Stadium.
Thursday, 7 November 2019
UEFA Europa League Matchday 4
Group I, CSC Nika Stadium
FC Olexandriya 2-2 AS Saint-Etienne
Sainté had turned a corner since Claude Puel succeeded Ghislain Printant at the start of October, and they bounced into this match unbeaten in seven in all competitions. Denis Bouanga teed up Jean-Eudes Aholou for an early chance but the AS Monaco-owned midfielder fired high over the bar (12'). At the other end, ASSE goalkeeper Stéphane Ruffier twice made himself big to deny Olexandriya midfielder Yevhen Banada from close range (15', 19'), and the visitors' nerves were soon settled when Khazri converted from the spot having been brought down in the Ukrainians' box by Ruffier's opposite number, Yuriy Pankiv (24'). Robert Beric came close to making it 2-0 when he turned on the edge of the area and let fly, but his shot flew past Pankiv as well as his far post (27'). Sainté bossed possession for the rest of the half and had another chance to pull further clear when Arnaud Nordin found space, but his attempt went wide (40') and the sides went in for the break with the scores at 1-0.
Sainté make sure
Whatever Olexandriya coach Volodymyr Sharan said to his charges at the interval seemed to spur them into action, though. Kyrylo Kovalets got the break of the ball in the visiting box and looked to have a gilt-edged chance to restore parity, but he fired high before the offside flag went up against him anyway (46'). Olexandriya then had the ball in the back of Ruffier's net just past the hour with Kovalets' free-kick deflecting off Banada and beyond the shot-stopper, but the midfielder was adjudged to have handled the ball and Potuguese referee João Pinheiro chalked it off (65'). Saint Etienne looked to have made the game safe minutes later when Bounga again got around the back of the hosts' defence and squared for Camara, with the France youth international midfielder sending Pankiv the wrong way, 10 minutes after having replaced Beric (71'). But Olexandriya pulled one back when their second-half substitute Denys Bezborodko prodded home after reacting quickest to Kovalets’ deflected cross (80') before Maksym Zaderaka snatched a 2-2 draw at the death (90'+1).
THE PLAYER: Stéphane Ruffier
Khazri often grabs the headlines for Saint-Etienne, but he must lose count of the number of times his goalkeeper gives his team the basis for their share of the points. Ruffier was a near indomitable force in Ukraine, and could have conceded many more than two with his goal under siege in the second half. How he remains with only three international caps - despite having Hugo Lloris, Steve Mandanda and Alphonse Areola for company in the France set-up - is anyone's guess.
THE STAT: 3
Saint Etienne now have three points in Group I, which leaves them third behind KAA Gent and VfL Wolfsburg, who have eight and five respectively. Sainté will host the Belgians before travelling to Germany in December with their fate in their own hands. Win one or both of those games and they can make it through to the knockout rounds. On tonight's performance, bar the last 10 minutes, it would be nothing if not deserved.
Brave Rennes bow out with Cluj loss
Stade Rennais FC's UEFA Europa League came to an end in the most frustrating way, Les Rouge et Noir dominating CFR 1907 Cluj but ultimately losing 1-0 after Mario Rondon's sucker punch.
Group E, Dr. Constantin Radulescu Stadium
CFR 1907 Cluj 1-0 Stade Rennais FC
Winless in their opening three Group E matches, Rennes coach Julien Stéphan had described Thursday's trip to Romania as being like a quarter-final, and his side started brightly at the Dr. Constantin Radulescu Stadium. Romain Del Castillo forced a save from Cluj goalkeeper Giedrius Arlauskis early on (5'), and the Lithuania shot-stopper did well to stop M'Baye Niang's top-corner bound effort soon after (13'). Raphinha then flashed an effort into the stands following a Hamari Traoré cross (19'). Niang saw a header saved by Arlauskis (35') as Rennes poured on the pressure, but there was to be no way through.
Frustration might have been desperation early in the second half, but Arlauskis's opposite number Romain Salin - playing ahead of usual No.1 Édouard Mendy - turned Emmanuel Culio's effort around the post (51'). Raphinha and Del Castillo combined for another chance with the Brazilian cutting back for the Frenchman, but once again Arlauskis stuck out a leg and cleared the danger (54'). With no way past Arlauskis from close range, Benjamin Bourigeaud took things into his own hands midway through the second half with a pair of efforts from outside the box, but the first deflected off Jordan Siebatcheu to safety (76'), the second saved - yet again - by Arlauskis, who hurt himself with his dive (76'). Rondon then ended the Bretons' hopes with a header from a corner (87') before being sent off for a stamp on Joris Gnagnon (90').
THE PLAYER: Raphinha
Raphinha might feel the hardest done by of all the Rennes players to have found himself on the losing side here. The Brazilian winger did more than anyone to unlock the Cluj defence, only to find Arlauskis in his way. Far from a guaranteed starter following his summer transfer from Sporting CP, the 22-year-old's stock rose here despite Rennes bowing out.
THE STAT: 5
Since the 2009/10 season, only three teams out of 66 have managed to qualify for the last 32 of this competition having taken just a single point from the first three group games. Rennes were close to keeping their campaign alive, but at least they're not alone in going out in such circumstances. Now to plot their path back up the Ligue 1 Conforama table.