2-1 win over SK Sturm Graz opens Europa League campaign
Two second half goals give victory to Sporting CP
Sporting Clube de Portugal beat SK Sturm Graz 1-2 in their first UEFA Europa League Group Stage game. It was the club's first ever victory on Austrian soil.
At a Stadion Graz Liebenau that had hundreds of Sportinguistas present to support the team, coach Rúben Amorim made five changes to the starting XI: Geny Catamo, Daniel Bragança, Matheus Reis, Francisco Trincão and Paulinho were the new additions to the squad that took to the field against Moreirense FC.
Before the opening whistle, a minute's silence was observed for the victims of the recent earthquake in Morocco and floods in Libya.
When the game got underway, the first chance to score went to Sporting CP after three minutes, when Daniel Bragança took a dangerous free kick and Sebastián Coates appeared in space to head wide. In response, Jusuf Gazibegović threatened at the other end and Coates had to cut across for a corner that resulted in a header from Otar Kiteishvili, saved by Antonio Adán.
On a pitch that was not in the best condition, the Austrians decided to play high up the field, putting pressure on Sporting CP's buildup play. Little by little, Os Leões began to control the action and got closer to the opposition goal. After Daniel Bragança's free kick into the hands of goalkeeper Kjell Scherpen, Morten Hjulmand placed a set piece into the heart of the area and it went just around the post.
Paulinho met Matheus Reis' cross with an attempted header, which went just over the top, and the game went into halftime with the score at 0-0.
The start of the second half was intense from Sporting CP, with two great opportunities in the opening moments. On the first, Geny Catamo broke between two opposition players before shooting over, while Francisco Trincão had a header met by a save from Scherpen.
Completely against the flow of the match, SK Sturm Graz scored in the 58th minute: Kiteishvili's first shot hit the post and William Bøving turned in the rebound.
The equaliser could have come in the next minute, but Scherpen made a stop off Paulinho's shot on the turn.
Amorim brought on Pedro Gonçalves and Nuno Santos to replace Trincão and Matheus Reis, in his first substitutions, as Sturm Graz' Scherpen continued to be tested. In the 66th minute, Paulinho's effort was parried and, off the rebound, Gonçalo Inácio's header was kept out by another save from the goalkeeper.
Finally, Sporting CP made it 1-1: Ousmane Diomande played over to Pedro Gonçalves with a quality ball and he took a defender out of the equation with a magical touch, before shooting on goal. Scherpen blocked, but Gyökeres followed up to score.
A triple change removed Geny Catamo, Daniel Bragança and Morten Hjulmand and put Iván Fresneda, Marcus Edwards and Hidemasa Morita on. Sporting CP continued to push and finally managed to take the lead in the 84th minute: Gonçalves, with a direct free kick, placed the ball into the area, and it was left to Ousmane Diomande, to shoot into the back of the net -the ball taking a deflection off Coates on the way.
Tomi Horvat's dangerous shot went close to Adán's goal, but Sporting CP were able to control things and manage the victory until the end, earning their first three points in this edition of the UEFA Europa League.
Os Leões next host Rio Ave FC in Liga Portugal on Monday, September 25th at 8:15 pm, at the Estádio José Alvalade.
Sporting CP: Antonio Adán [GK], Ousmane Diomande, Sebastián Coates [C], Gonçalo Inácio, Geny Catamo (Iván Fresneda, 76'), Morten Hjulmand (Hidemasa Morita, 76'), Daniel Bragança (Marcus Edwards, 76') , Matheus Reis (Nuno Santos, 62'), Francisco Trincão (Pedro Gonçalves, 62'), Paulinho and Viktor Gyökeres.