Wolves book Sevilla date
Wolves edged through to the quarter-finals of the Europa League with a hard-fought 1-0 win over Greek side Olympiacos at Molineux last night, which secured a 2-1 victory on aggregate. Raul Jimenez scored the winner from the penalty spot after just eight minutes. Wolves now face Sevilla next Tuesday night.
The odyssey continues for Wolverhampton Wanderers, whose season progresses to Duisberg for a Europa League quarter-final against Sevilla next Thursday, which will be 385 days since they began qualification for this cup run that runneth over.
This was a struggle against determined Greek opponents in a second-leg,
last-16 game, almost five months after the first leg, which asked a lot of Nuno Espirito Santo’s players. Yet they would later gather to celebrate in an empty Molineux – their last home game of the season. Raul Jimenez’s early penalty was the difference between two tired teams, of whom Wolves were notably the more exhausted.
They will have to be better to overcome Sevilla in Germany, the Spanish club who are masters of this competition beating Roma 2-0 earlier in the evening.
Nuno said that after the final whistle he brought players and staff together to remind them of the scope of their achievement. “It’s huge,” he said. “Everyone has to realise that, the effort of the players. I don’t know how many miles we have travelled. It’s crazy, really. I said to the players, ‘Let’s make it worth it’.”
They were on the back foot for much of the game and were fortunate that a very close Var call ruled in their favour to deny Olympiacos a first-half equaliser. Nevertheless, Wolves are in the last eight, the first time they have reached this stage of a European competition since their 1971-72 Uefa Cup run took them all the way to the final and defeat by Tottenham Hotspur.
The roar of a full Molineux might have given Nuno’s players a little extra impetus but it is their misfortune that the restoration of the club’s European reputation 50 years on has coincided with the Covid era. It has been a magnificent achievement and may yet potentially see them up against Manchester United, should they overcome Copenhagen in their quarter-final.
Nuno said later that an injury to the Spanish wing-back Jonny, who left the stadium on crutches, meant that his chances of playing next week did not look good. He was more hopeful about Matt Doherty and Willy Boly, who also struggled towards the end. Even Nuno was felled in his own technical area, when Olympiacos’ relentless centre-forward Youssef El-Arabi charged into him in pursuit of the ball.
As for Sevilla, who have won the Europa League five times since 2006, a record number for the competition, Nuno was upbeat. “We must always be confident that we can overcome the next challenge,” he said. “We are in the last eight of the Europa League. Let’s do it well. Let’s compete.”
As a winner with Jose Mourinho’s Porto in 2003 he has been there and done it.
He was critical of the long delay that Var took in ruling out Mohamed Camara’s goal for Olympiacos in the first half – the combination of no fans and the long wait for a decision equating, in his words, to “total emptiness”. El-Arabi’s run was judged offside by the tightest of margins.
Much was owed to Rui Patricio, who was outstanding, making huge saves in both halves, including a late stop from a header by the towering substitute Ahmed Hassan. Wolves had just 38 per cent of possession, and although they are a side comfortable not having the ball, that did seem on the low side. They struggled with Olympiacos’s veteran Mathieu Valbeuna, 35, who was still playing the midfield maestro.
For the goal, Daniel Podence, the striker signed from Olympiacos in January, chased down his former team-mate, goalkeeper Bobby Allain. Allain looked fragile in that first half and his judgment was off when he challenged Podence for the ball and barged the little striker over. The penalty was Jimenez’s 27th goal of the season. Including his 10 assists he has more goal involvements than any Premier League player this season, bar Kevin De Bruyne on the same total.
Podence’s booking means he will miss the Sevilla tie. By the end Wolves were clinging on. Even so, what a season it has been.
Perfect start: Raul Jimenez scores from the penalty spot to give Wolves the early lead