A second leg 1-1 final score between Dinamo Moscow and VfB Stuttgart at the Arena Khimki Tuesday evening was enough to see Stuttgart advance in the Europa League tournament, as they won on aggregate 1-3. All three Stuttgart goals in the two legs were scored by former Hoffenheim striker Vedad Ibišević.
Dinamo Moscow came into the match on the back of their first Russian Premier League win of the season. After losing their first five league matches by an aggregate score of 1-11, Dinamo got a tie-breaking goal from Christian Noboa in the 68th minute away at midtable rival Lokomotiv Moscow and held on for a 3-2 win. Former Stuttgart forward Kevin Kuranyi did not feature in that match, although he was in starting XI Tuesday in Moscow, lined upfront in Dinamo Coach Daniel Petrescu’s 4-4-2 formation.
While Dinamo were winners on the weekend, Stuttgart fell at home to VfL Wolfsburg in a match that was without drama until the very end. A late penalty earned by Vedad Ibišević was taken by the Bosnian international in what was a scoreless contest, but Wolfsburg’s Swiss international, Diego Benaglio, saved the attempt and Ibišević somehow missed cashing in on the rebound in front of seemingly acres of empty goalmouth. As the football gods are wont, Stuttgart were punished when Wolfsburg newcomer Bas Dost headed in during stoppage time to give the visitors a 1-0 win.
Bruno Labbadia started a similar XI against Dinamo as he did in Saturday’s match, with the exception of Gōtoku Sakai at right back in the place of Schalke loanee Tim Hoogland and Shinji Okazaki replacing Ibrahima Traoré, setting up in a 4-3-2-1 .
Stuttgart: Ulreich – Sakai, Tasci, Maza, Boka (Molinaro 71′) – Kvist, Gentner – Harnik (Tunay Torun 68′), Hajnal, Okazaki – Ibisevic (Cacau 78′)
Dinamo: Schunin – Chicherin, Schildenfeld, Fernandez, Granat – Sapeta (Semshov 61′), Noboa – Dzsudzsak (Nekhaychik 68′), Lomic – Kuranyi (Misimovic 68′) – Kokorin
The match started out cautiously, with the Swabians showing some good possession around the 12th minute and Dinamo displaying some quality possession of their own about four minutes later. Near the midway point of the first half, Vedad Ibisevic possessed the ball deep in the Dinamo box, and while he was defended well the ball fell to Shinji Okazaki, whose shot was denied by a quick reaction hand save by Dinamo goalkeeper Anton Shunin. A second Stuttgart opportunity occurred in the 27th minute, when Martin Harnik hit the Dinamo crossbar, with Okazaki again being involved in the threat. A long cross for Kuryani later in the half was just too long. Moments after a little extracurricular pushing and shoving following a Sven Ulreich catch of a Dinamo cross into the box, Dinamo saw its best scoring opportunity. As the half wound down, 21 year-old Dinamo forward Aleksandr Kokorin streaked into the box between defenders Serdar Tasci and Francisco ‘Maza’ Rodriguez, but the Mexican international pried the ball away before Kokorin could get his shot off.
Dinamo, down only by two aggregate goals after a scoreless first half, began the second half by applying pressure on the German visitors, with Ecuadoran midfielder Nobia rattling the Stuttgart crossbar in the opening moments of play, while another Dinamo buildup was cancelled by an offsides call. Stuttgart’s Ibišević was the one to break the ice, however, as he took a long Christian Gentner pass, chested the bounce, and fired a left-footed shot into the net in the 64th minute after just missing on a header moments earlier.
Dinamo didn’t give up the fight, though, even three goals behind in aggregate. Kuranyi missed on a chance, and looked to suffer a knock and was replaced by another Bundesliga veteran, Zvjezdan Misimović. The Moscovites finally pulled a goal back in the 77th minute when Kokorin scored from close range following a nice assist by teammate Pavel Nyakhaychyk, ruining Sven Ulreich’s potential clean sheet. The Swabians were a bit shaky closing out the match, allowing dangerous shots by Kokorin and a last-minute blast by Misimović that went barely high over the crossbar, but were able to clinch Europa League advancement with the 1-1 draw.
While Stuttgart’s 3-1 aggregate win over a struggling Dinamo Moscow side was anything but classic, it was good enough to get them into the group stages of the Europa League. Sporting Director Fredi Bobic was smiling in his postgame interview, but although Stuttgart killed off the final minutes following Kokorin’s goal, they struggled to do so effectively.
The Swabians have now played four competitive matches in the new season, allowing only two goals and recording two shutouts (although one of those shutouts was in the Pokal against Brandenburg-Liga side SV Falkensee-Finkenkrug). Labbadia’s club look settled in central defense with Tasci and Maza, but left back Artur Boka hasn’t added much in attack while Sakai at right back played well generally but looked a bit rusty in his first start of the season, and was partially at fault for Dinamo’s goal, allowing the cross into the box. Although one tends to think of Stuttgart as basically an offensive team, allowing two goals in three matches against first division competition in Europe and on MatchDay One (albeit two matches against a hardly prolific Dinamo squad) would, over the length of a Bundesliga season, yield a miserly total of only 22 goals allowed. While it is way too early to reasonably extrapolate such a yield with credibility, it nevertheless suggests that Stuttgart could be continuing the defensive improvement gained by Labbadia in his first full year with the club. Stuttgart allowed 12 shots to Dinamo, but most lacked true danger and Ulreich had a fairly easy day in goal.
Offensively, the team has disappointed thus far, and today only managed four shots on goal in a game in which more goals weren’t really required. The attack has yet to look fluid, and it’s only the genuine striker qualities of Ibišević that has rescued the club thus far. Okazaki provided some liveliness and energy Tuesday, and hopefully Martin Harnik will lace up his scoring boots next time out after hitting the woodwork in Moscow. But thus far it’s been the defending that has brought the Swabians into the Europa League’s group stages.
Still, in a results oriented industry, Stuttgart move on, and have the additional positive of not receiving any disciplinary cards Tuesday. While awaiting the outcome of the rest of the Europa League matches and the subsequent group draws, Labbadia will have his hands full Sunday as his club meets nemesis Bayern München at the Allianz Arena.