RCD Espanyol ended the group stage of the UEFA Cup with their 100 per cent record intact after a narrow victory over FK Austria Wien. Walter Pandiani's 57th-minute strike was the only goal at the Olímpico de Montjuic and ensured the Spanish side emerged from Group F with four wins out of four.
Espanyol headed into the game with triumphs over AC Sparta Praha, SV Zulte Waregem and AFC Ajax behind them, and although they lacked the sparkle of previous performances in securing this latest success, coach Ernesto Valverde will not be too concerned as he looks ahead to Friday's draw for the Round of 32 in Nyon. After all, both teams' fates were already sealed going into the match, with Espanyol guaranteed first place and Austria eliminated.
Against this backcloth, the lack of entertainment in the first half was no real surprise. Although Pandiani directed a close-range header wide in the third minute, there were few opportunities in the opening 45 minutes. Ito drove a shot wide from outside the penalty box after 20 minutes while at the other end, Sebastian Mila sent an optimistic effort from 20 metres into the crowd behind Gorka Iraizoz's goal.
Step up a gear
Espanyol stepped up a gear after the interval with Ito and David García both going close before Pandiani finally broke the deadlock in the 57th minute. An inch-perfect cross by Albert Riera from the left picked out the striker, who headed home powerfully for his seventh goal in six UEFA Cup outings this season. The victory margin could have been greater but the hosts settled for the points as they advanced unscathed to the knockout stage - leaving Austria to ponder a fourth straight defeat in the section.