Photo by Goran Stanzl/PIXSELL
August 24, 2023 – The European qualifiers continued on Thursday for Croatian clubs. Dinamo hosted Sparta Prague at Maksimir in the Europa League play-off, and Rijeka visited Lille in the Conference League play-off.
Dinamo v. Sparta Prague (3-1)
Dinamo beat Sparta 3-1 in the first match of the Europa League play-off at Maksimir. The Czech club took the lead with a goal from Krejči (penalty) in the 38th minute, only for Špikić to equalize before halftime. Perić and Ivanušec turned the game completely around for Dinamo in the second half.
Sergej Jakirović didn’t experiment too much with the starting line-up, except for replacing Livaković and Šutalo with Nevistic and Perić. Dinamo had a great start to the game and could have taken the lead already in the 2nd minute, but Baturina’s shot was stopped by the post.
Sparta responded in the 11th minute, but Moharrami saved it from a goal at the last moment. In the 25th, Baturina left the ball to Bulat, who shot high over the goal. Sparta had been playing quite reserved until then but took the lead in the 38th minute. Perić was hit in the hand by the ball, and after consulting VAR, the referee awarded a penalty. Krejči scored for the lead.
It didn’t take long for Dinamo to equalize. Petković took the ball in the midfield, launched a counterattack and then played excellently to Špikić on the right side. Špikić nailed the opposite corner beautifully with the outside part of his boot to make it 1-1. Dinamo could have turned it around before halftime, but Vindahl first saved Baturina’s shot in stoppage time, and Ljubičić shot over the goal.
A great reaction followed from Dinamo at the start of the second half. They attacked Sparta’s goal from the first minute in search of a second goal. In the 51st minute, Baturina shot across the goal, and two minutes later, he rushed past three Sparta players and shot straight at the goalkeeper.
In the 58th, Bulat played an excellent long ball for Špikić, who reached it and won the corner. Bulat crossed, Vindahl incredibly saved Petković’s header and then stopped Ivanušec’s attempt on the line. However, he deflected the ball only to Perić, who headed into the empty goal for 2-1.
And it wasn’t over yet. Soon after, Ivanušec rushed down the left side and played a wonderful one-two with Ljubičić and then masterfully hit the opposite corner for 3-1 in the 61st minute.
In the end, Sparta looked for a second goal to increase their chances in the return match. They had a couple of chances from dangerous positions, but couldn’t capitalize on them. The return match is in a week in Prague.
Lille v. Rijeka (2-1)
Lille beat Rijeka 2-1 in the first game of the Conference League play-off. Rijeka took the lead with a great goal by Marco Pašalić in the 24th minute. Edon Žegrova equalized in the 43rd minute, and Leny Yoro secured the win for Lille in the 89th minute.
Rijeka came up with a strengthened defense and a plan to threaten Lille from the counterattack. Such a tactic almost bore fruit in the 4th minute when Ivanović snatched the ball from Diakhite about 20 meters from the goal. The French stopper fell, and the Rijeka attacker broke out in front of the goalkeeper, who nevertheless eliminated any threat to the goal.
Lille moved the game to Rijeka’s half but without significant opportunities until the 24th minute. Immediately after that, Galović played a poor ball which both Lille defenders on the left side misjudged. Pašalić got hold of the ball, took a few steps forward, and saw Chevalier leave his goal. With an excellent chip, Rijeka took the lead.
At the end of the first half, Lille’s pressure paid off. In the 42nd minute, Cabella and Haraldsson combined but Labrović saved the shot. However, a minute later, Yoro won the ball about 30 meters from Rijeka’s goal and passed it to David. David found Žegrova who beat Labrović with a precise shot from 15 meters.
Lille had another great opportunity as soon as the second half began, David entered the penalty area from the left wing and shot powerfully under the crossbar, but Labrović was there. In the very end, a similar scenario happened like the end of the first half. After a short corner in the 89th minute, Cavaliero crossed, and Yoro was the highest to jump, scoring from six meters for the final 2-1.
Rijeka could have even equalized in stoppage time, but Janković’s shot was excellently saved by Chevalier, and Fruk sent the ball over the crossbar. The return match is played in a week in Rijeka.
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