Espanyol secured their place in the UEFA Europa League group stages with a 2-2 draw in Ukraine sealing a 5-3 aggregate victory over Zorya Luhansk.
The hosts controlled most of the game but the La Liga side were able to get a draw to consolidate their lead from last week’s first leg.
Story of the Match
Zorya began the brighter of the two sides and had a number of opportunities to take the lead in the opening 10 minutes.
Vladyslav Kochergin was first to go close when his shot at goal was spilt by Diego Lopez, before the goalkeeper managed to grab the ball on the goal line to prevent the opener. Dmytro Ivanisenya then curled a shot just over from distance before Lopez was called into action again, tipping a shot wide after he had initially given away possession.
The hosts’ early dominance continued with a chance on 16 minutes when Artem Gromov nodded the ball down to Bogdan Lednev, but his volley went wide of goal.
It really should have been 1-0 however five minutes later when a free-kick found the head of Pylyp Budkivsky, but the striker’s header was straight at Lopez.
Gromov was impressing in the middle of the park and came close to getting on the end of Dmytro Khomchenovskiy’s cross from the right after a quick burst into the box, however, the ball was just out of his reach and Espanyol survived once more.
Those missed chances would eventually come back to haunt the Ukrainians as the visitors moved in front on 34 minutes.
Sergi Darder swung in a delightful corner from the right and it was met by the head of Facundo Ferreyra who found the net via the post with what was the La Liga side’s first effort on goal.
Two minutes before half time, Bogdan Mykhaylychenko broke forward and let fly, but once more Lopez was equal to the shot as Espanyol went in ahead at the break.
Zorya began the second half on the front foot and came close when Budkivsky’s looping header was tipped over the bar by Lopez.
They did grab the equaliser on 54 minutes though, Lopez’s clearance being sent back to Lednev, who flicked the ball beyond Fernando Calero before firing a shot into the corner.
That left the hosts needing three more goals to progress but that was soon back to four when Espanyol moved ahead for a second time.
Marc Roca burst through midfield before his clever reverse pass found Matias Vargas who had all the time in the world to slot the ball into the back of the net.
Substitute Nazary Rusyn had a chance to level the scores but his sidefoot volley went wide before Kochergin took aim from distance, his shot flying over the bar.
It was 2-2 a minutes later however when Rusyn cleverly turned his man before placing a shot into the corner to give Zorya hope again.
At the other end, Wu Lei and Oscar Melendo both went close as Espanyol tried to sneak a winner, with Victor Campuzano having the last effort of the game, which was easily stopped by Mykyta Shevchenko.
In the end, a draw was enough to see the Spaniards win 5-3 on aggregate and they will find out their group stage opponents in tomorrow’s draw.
Takeaways from the Match
Despite the dominance of the hosts, they weren’t able to convert enough of the many chances they created and were ultimately made to pay for it. Espanyol scored with their first two shots on target and were able to use their experience to guide themselves through the match.
Zorya will be pleased with their performance but will be extremely disappointed that they couldn’t at least win on the night and will now return to focus on the league, starting with Sunday’s game against Dynamo Kyiv.
As for Espanyol, they’ll be full of confidence and eagerly awaiting the outcome of the group stage draw on Friday.
The midfielder was excellent for the away side in terms of how he controlled the ball and brought a calming influence to the middle of the park when Espanyol needed it most. His superb assist for Vargas ended the game as a contest and he could well be a key player for Los Pericos in both La Liga and Europe.
Lednev caused Espanyol problems across both legs of the tie and rounded it off with a classy goal to make it 1-1 in the second leg. He’ll be disappointed not to have ended up on the winning side, but he certainly caught the eye.
Zorya Luhansk: Shevchenko; Tymchyk, Abu Hanna, Cheberko, Mykhaylychenko; Ivanisenya; Kochergin, Lednev (Yurchenko, 68), Gromov (Rusyn, 58), Khomchenovskiy; Budkivskiy (Kabayev, 81)
Espanyol: Diego Lopez; Javi Lopez, Lluis Lopez, Calero, Vila; Granero, Roca, Darder (Sanchez, 66); Melendo, Ferreyra (Wu, 73), Vargas (Campuzano, 77)