Goalkeeper Jens Lehmann gave new VfB Stuttgart coach Christian Gross credit for "managing to summon something special" after a 3-1 defeat of FC Unirea Urziceni put the Swabians in the last 16.
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Despite being a staunch supporter of former boss Markus Babbel, VfB Stuttgart goalkeeper Jens Lehmann said newly appointed coach Christian Gross "managed to summon something special" as the German outfit put poor domestic form behind them to secure their place in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League.
Having taken charge as recently as Sunday, Swiss tactician Gross inspired the hosts to a 3-1 victory over FC Unirea Urziceni in his first match, with goals from Ciprian Marica, Christian Träsch and Pavel Pogrebnyak putting the result beyond doubt with just eleven minutes on the clock. It was exactly what the Swabians required to leapfrog their Romanian counterparts into second spot in Group G, although veteran custodian Lehmann admitted the outcome could have been different but for a key early save.
"Things could have gone completely the other way because Unirea had one or two decent chances early on," said the 40-year-old. "We had a fantastic start, though, and it's difficult for any team to come back from a deficit like that." The former Arsenal FC man was called into action with the scoreboard showing 1-0, his exceptional reflexes keeping out a misguided clearance from Stefano Celozzi at the near post.
That scare was soon forgotten when Träsch raced away to double the advantage before centre-forward Pogrebnyak netted a classy third, earning him the Player Rater award from uefa.com users. "I'm very proud to have won the award but I'm even happier to have helped the team by scoring," said the 26-year-old Russian international, who registered for the first time since the 1-1 draw with Rangers FC on Matchday 1.
Another encouraging performance for new coach Gross was that of Sami Khedira, a late addition to the lineup having recovered from a stress reaction in his foot. The German international displayed his quality in the opening exchanges, not least by teeing up Marica and Pogrebnyak for their goals. However, the 22-year-old midfielder emphasised that the win was the product of a team effort rather than individual stars. "I wouldn't put the victory down to any one performance," he said. "We worked as a unit and fought for one another. I haven't trained with the first team for seven weeks, so it was nice to be involved again and to play well."
A second-half Unirea consolation for António Semedo did little to quell a dominant Stuttgart – still third from bottom in the Bundesliga – whose fans can now look forward to a first knockout round tie with one of Europe's top clubs. Asked which he would prefer, Lehmann conceded he would relish a return to a former employer: "Of course I'd love to come up against Arsenal, but I don't mind if that's in the next round or later in the competition."