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FC Sheriff Tiraspol 1-4 Grazer AK
Mario Bazina was the hero for Grazer AK, as the Austrian side all but booked their berth in the UEFA Champions League third qualifying round with a comprehensive home victory over FC Sheriff Tiraspol.
With a tie against Russian club FC Lokomotiv Moscow in the next round the prize for the winners of this two-legged encounter, Graz have now put themselves firmly in the driving seat.
Bazina scored twice to pour cold water on Sheriff's celebrations as they opened their new stadium with a disappointing performance. Sheriff lost two key players ahead of the game, with goalkeeper Sebastian Hutan and playmaker Vadim Boret sidelined through injury, and were a goal down inside the first three minutes.
Bazina on target
Bazina, impressive throughout, silenced the crowd inside the Sheriff stadium when he stooped to head in Roland Brunmayr's cross. In a match when defensive mistakes proved crucial, Sheriff were made to pay the price again on the stroke of half-time when Alexandru Chirilov should have done much better to stop René Aufhauser's shot.
Grazer scored another goal five minutes after the interval as Bazina and Boban Dmitrovic combined to send Jones Kusi-Asare through on goal. Chirilov managed to deflect the Swedish forward's shot, but Brunmayer picked up the rebound to make it 3-0 to the visitors.
Hastings makes amends
Sheriff struck back just seconds later, when Grazer's English defender Richard Hastings brought down Andriy Nesteruk in the penalty area and Vazha Tarkhnivshvili confidently converted the penalty. However, the goal did little to inspire Sheriff, and Hastings made amends with a fourth goal after Chirilov failed to hold his 25-metre effort.
Grazer coach Thijs Libregts acknowledged that the scoreline did not reflect the game, saying: "Looking at the score you would think it was easy to play Sheriff, but it wasn't easy at all. We were lucky to score an early goal and it gave us the confidence we needed."
His opposite number, Gabi Balint, agreed that Sheriff had paid the price for their defensive mistakes. "We knew that our opponents were strong, and we felt it right from the start," he said. "Two of our key players were injured and the early goal did the damage as well. However, we will go to Graz and hope to show we are not a weak team."
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