Coach Christian Gross expects an improved performance from VfB Stuttgart next Thursday despite taking control of their UEFA Europa League third qualifying round tie against Molde FK with a 3-2 first-leg win in Norway.
Both sides made chances in an open match that was not decided until new signing Martin Harnik headed in after 82 minutes. The goal may have put last season's UEFA Champions League contenders in the box seat, but Gross will hope for better at the VfB Arena next week. "We have to play with more focus to make it easier for ourselves," he said. "We will push harder in the second leg and force them to make more mistakes."
Gross was without a number of internationals who had featured at the FIFA World Cup, including Sami Khedira, Cacau and Khalid Boulahrouz, and fielded a youthful side. "The young players are lacking match sharpness," he said. "It's important that we get the World Cup players back. That will give us stability."
Stuttgart went ahead on 27 minutes when Sebastian Rudy rounded off a fine run and cross from Cristian Molinaro. The Bundesliga team created opportunities to stretch their lead only for Pavel Pogrebnyak to miss twice in quick succession as the hour mark approached.
Molde took advantage after 65 minutes when Mattias Moström tapped in a rebound, yet in an entertaining second half Stuttgart regained the initiative nine minutes later as Zdravko Kuzmanović shot low past Knut Lillebakk after a well-worked free-kick involving Ciprian Marica.
The Norwegian club were behind for just two minutes, Magne Hoseth pulling them level again with a fine individual goal, but Stuttgart had the last laugh. Two of Gross's substitutes combined for the winner – Harnik, a close-season recruit from Werder Bremen, heading in Daniel Didavi's terrific centre from the right.
Molde coach Kjell Jonevret said: "Of course I'm not satisfied with the result, but I think it was a good game. Stuttgart were huge favourites beforehand and people only gave us a 2% chance of qualifying. We will go to Germany looking to score, but Stuttgart are a big team and have a much better chance of going through."
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