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Kuzmanović rocket cannot stop Sevilla

Sevilla FC 1-1 VfB Stuttgart
Zdravko Kuzmanović's strike earned the German side a draw against a Sevilla team who nevertheless qualified from Group G.

Aleksandr Hleb vies for possession with Sevilla's influential forward Luis Fabiano
Aleksandr Hleb vies for possession with Sevilla's influential forward Luis Fabiano ©Getty Images

A superb long-range strike from Zdravko Kuzmanović with eleven minutes left gave VfB Stuttgart a merited point against a Sevilla FC side who nevertheless marched into the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds with this draw.

Man down
The 1-1 scoreline was secured after Jesús Navas had established a first-half lead for the Group G pacesetters, who were then hindered by injuries to Arouna Koné and substitute Aldo Duscher, leaving the Spanish Liga club a man short for the last quarter of an hour. The end product was Kuzmanović's stunning effort, slightly deflected off substitute Julian Schieber and launched from Duscher's abandoned beat.

Going solo
The fact both coaches initially opted for a lone striker put the solo abilities of the two centre-forwards, Luis Fabiano for Sevilla and Stuttgart's Pavel Pogrebnyak, in direct comparison. That neither team was clever enough in its use of the ball for the frontrunners to have it easy only emphasised how effective Fabiano was with whatever scrap of possession he gained. Stuttgart's Russian international showed willing, Fabiano class. Where home coach Manuel Jiménez normally prefers a 4-4-2, here he deployed three creative players – Navas on the right, Arouna Koné centrally and Diego Capel on the left – behind the Brazilian dubbed "the best centre-forward in the world" by FC Unirea Urziceni coach Dan Petrescu.

'O Fabuloso' displayed both precision and vision when the opening goal arrived. Fabiano was lurking 30 metres out when Ndri Romaric gave him a hard, low pass to feet. The diagonal volleyed flick that followed was glorious and measured perfectly for Navas's run into the Stuttgart box. The captain's uncomplicated right-foot finish earned him his second UEFA Champions League goal, handed Sevilla the lead and made Fabiano the leading assist provider of the group stage with four. Injury then forced Sevilla to introduce Álvaro Negredo in place of Arouna Koné. This prompted a return to the twin-striker system and within minutes the replacement nearly scored. Matthieu Delpierre carelessly presented the ball to Navas who cut it back for Negredo, whose left-footed strike was smothered by Jens Lehmann.

Tactical battle
Whatever the deficiencies away coach Markus Babbel witnessed in his side's first-half performance, he would nonetheless have spotted opportunities down Sevilla's left flank. The Bundesliga outfit duly drafted Stefano Celozzi and Sebastian Rudy down their right, for Khalid Boulahrouz and Roberto Hilbert, and the switch worked. The ensuing flurry of possession and chances for the visitors made Sevilla's advantage look slim. It culminated in a fierce 54th-minute effort from Kuzmanović that Javi Varas saved with his knees. From the rebound Pogrebnyak bounced a header off the bar and, with Varas struggling for position, Serdar Tasci wasted his opportunity by nodding the loose ball straight at the goalkeeper. Jiménez responded to the tactical power play by sending on Diego Perotti and Duscher.

If equilibrium appeared to have been restored, Duscher's departure with a hamstring problem helped rip up the script. The rest was done by Kuzmanović's 20-metre missile after the midfielder received a square pass from Pogrebnyak. The result ended Sevilla's 100 per cent home record in the UEFA Champions League in their seventh match at the Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán.