VfB Stuttgart have one foot in the UEFA Champions League group stage after goals from Timo Gebhart and Aleksandr Hleb earned them a 2-0 victory at FC Timişoara.
Stuttgart seized control of the tie by scoring twice in the space of three minutes in the first half, Gebhart converting a penalty and Hleb netting a fine solo goal, and Markus Babbel's team will be confident of finishing the job in Germany on Wednesday week. Timişoara will be missing their captain Dan Alexa and left-back Artavazd Karamyan, both suspended for the return after collecting yellow cards here – their second of the qualifying competition – and it would surpass their surprise defeat of FC Shakhtar Donetsk in the previous round if they were to find a way back now.
Khedira goes close
Gebhart missed an early chance for the visitors when he placed a far-post header wide and the Bundesliga side went even closer on the quarter-hour as Sami Khedira drove in a blistering 25-metre shot that Timişoara goalkeeper Costel Pantilmon did well to turn on to the crossbar. Stuttgart came again and this time it was Timişoara defender Alexa who reached a low Gebhart cross just ahead of Ciprian Marica.
It was no great surprise, therefore, when Stuttgart made the breakthrough in the 28th minute. Khedira put Romania forward Marica through on goal and he went down under a challenge from international colleague Pantilmon to win a penalty that the lively Gehbart tucked away. Barely two minutes later Stuttgart had their second goal and this owed everything to the quick feet of Hleb. Back in a Stuttgart shirt after four years away, the Belarussian – on loan from FC Barcelona – weaved his way past four white shirts before flicking the ball low past Pantilmon.
Home coach Ovidiu Ioan Sabau had been forced by injuries to include two half-fit players, Dare Vršič and Alexandru Curtean, among his substitutes, but he is more likely to have rued the miss by Lukáš Magera soon after Stuttgart's second goal. The Czech forward spurned a golden opportunity to get Timişoara back into the contest, sending a free header wide, and for the remainder of the first period Stuttgart were able to limit the hosts' threat to the occasional set-piece. Visiting keeper Jens Lehmann was finally called into action after the restart, saving shots from Gheorghe Bucur and Éder, although Stuttgart still carried a menace on the break, Marica forcing a diving save from Pantilmon and then twice denying substitute Julian Schieber.