Europa League play-offs: FC Twente and FC Utrecht through

FC Twente leave it late but stumble through to the final of the play-offs

In what proved a tighter affair than expected, FC Twente have put FC Groningen out of the play-offs, beating the Groningers 3-2 and progressing with 4-2 on aggregate. It doesn’t tell the whole story though, as FC Groningen were looking good for a place in the Europa League play-offs final for most of the game.

Braafheid about to score 1-0.

Braafheid about to score.

The hope for an early FC Groningen-goal by Maaskant was soon put to bed, when Edson Braafheid opened the score in the 12th minute. The left back was given a lot of space by Stefano Magnasco and seized on it, hitting a low drive from outside the box past FC Groningen-keeper Marco Bizot. FC Twente looked comfortable, but Braafheid undid his fine work by putting a Leandro Bacuna cross into his own net in the 23th minute. Only three minutes later, Filip Kostic, who was a surprise inclusion of FC Groningen manager Robert Maaskant, launched Andraz Kirm. The Slovenian rounded FC Twente goalkeeper Sander Boschker and put FC Groningen in front.

FC Groningen then decided to sit back and leave FC Twente the ball, but the Twentenaren were unable to break through. FC Groningen were well organised. As the home crowd got more and more concerned, the away supporters felt this could be their day. Nacer Chadli was brought on after an hour to give FC Twente some extra strength in attack, but FC Groningen initially defended their lead quite comfortably. The Belgian was left out of the starting eleven, as he didn’t leave the previous game completely injury free.

In the last ten minutes, it went all wrong for FC Groningen. A cross by Rasmus Bengtsson was headed in by Felipe Gutierrez. The Chilean playmaker beat his fellow countryman Stefano Magnasco in the air in the 84th minute. FC Groningen only needed one goal to progress, but appeared to have lost faith. In injury time, Nacer Chadli put the game beyond doubt, curling in a beauty from the left, leaving Bizot without a chance. A hard fought victory, but FC Twente can now look forward to playing FC Utrecht for the final Europa League ticket.

FC Twente interim manager Alfred Schreuder felt his side deserved the victory.’I think we completely pushed back FC Groningen. (After the 2-1) We were never in trouble, but we couldn’t score. We kept calm and composed and in the end, we finally found our necessary goal. I think we deserved to win it.’

FC Groningen manager Robert Maaskant, who will leave the club in the summer and will be replaced by his assistant Erwin Van de Looi, was proud of his team.’Nobody expected us to come this close to qualifying for the next round after the 0-1 loss. But we made a real game of it. We fought like lions. Until very late in the game we were up, we were as good as in the final. That’s why I complimented the players afterwards, we fulfilled all our pre-season goals.

FC Utrecht set themselves up for a fitting way to the end of the season

FC Utrecht have knocked SC Heerenveen out of the Europa League play-offs, winning 2-1 at home. After the 0-1 victory in the Abe Lenstra Stadion three days earlier, the club from the Domstad was already in the driving seat and it only took them 9 minutes to open the score. Talented midfielder Jens Toornstra thundered in a free kick. He has been in amazing form ever since he made the switch from ADO Den Haag in January and at 700.000 euros, he has been a real bargain. FC Utrecht remained on top throughout the first half, with Cedric Van der Gun, Jacob Mulenga and Mike Van der Hoorn squandering chances. At the other end, SC Heerenveen were dangerous through Alfred Finnbogason and Hakim Ziyech. As the game carried on into the second half, with FC Utrecht dominating play. Jeffrey Gouweleeuw almost handed FC Utrecht another goal, as a Toornstra-pass was deflected towards his own goal.

Eight minutes from time, Toornstra added another, scoring his 7th goal in 14 appearances for FC Utrecht. A deflected cross of Mark Van der Maarel was hammered in from close range. The keeper got a hand on it, but the shot was simply too powerful. With the game put beyond doubt, it was Mark Uth with the consolation goal for the Friezen. It was a personal success for the German striker as it was his first goal for the club.

Winning Wouters.

Winning Wouters.

Jan Wouters was pleased with the performance of his team and especially of Jens Toornstra.’He has become a very important player for us. Jens is always a threat for the opposition, has eye for a goal and he positions himself very well.’

Marco van Basten was understandably less happy. ‘My attackers weren’t able to finish off the chances they had. You have to accept that. Ofcourse, the absence of Filip Djuricic didn’t help.  But we did give FC Utrecht a game. A lot of players will leave this summer and we need to find replacements. That is how the reality is in Dutch football.’

FC Utrecht and FC Twente will meet next Thursday and Sunday to decide who will take the final Europa League spot. The first game will be in the Grolsch Veste at 20:45 CET and the second in Stadion Galgenwaard at 1230 CET.

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