November 22, 2012
Stuttgart turn on style
Runaway Group E leaders Steaua Bucharest were given a Europa League hiding as Stuttgart turned on the style in the Romanian capital to claim a 5-1 win and throw the race for qualification wide open.
Starting the night five points clear, things could not have gone worse for Laurentiu Reghecampf's men, who were not only drubbed but also pegged back as their conquerors and FC Copenhagen both made up ground.
It was a fine exhibition of football from the Germans, who scored through Serdar Tasci, Martin Harnik, Gotuko Sakai and Shinji Okazaki (twice), faltering only when they conceded a consolation to Mihai Costea.
The outcome means that Stuttgart now have eight points and will go through with a last-game win over Molde, while Steaua's excellent form prior to this game buys them the luxury of needing only to avoid defeat against Copenhagen.
They were second best all night, though, and were behind as early as the sixth minute, with Tasci getting a run on Florin Gardos at a corner and making the most of a free header.
Okazaki then crashed a shot wide but their lead was doubled with 18 minutes on the clock, with Zdravko Kuzmanovic's cross evading everyone until goalkeeper Ciprian Tatarusanu tipped it into the path of Harnik, who bundled it in from a tight angle.
There was no doubting the moment of the match, which arrived four minutes later.
Okazaki's pass bounced its way along the bumpy penalty area and Sakai met it with the sweetest of half-volleys which fizzed past Tatarusanu.
It was a goal of brilliance and its scorer turned provider on the half-hour mark, crossing for Okazaki who met it with a sweet, first-time header which flashed in.
Steaua were given some respite before half-time, even recording an effort through Alexandru Bourceanu, but the progression continued after the break as Okazaki drilled in a loose ball with 55 minutes gone.
To their credit Steaua dug in, even if they did owe a lot to Tatarusanu for denying Okazaki his hat-trick.
Costea then took in Adrian Popa's pass to grab a scarcely-deserved consolation, wrapping up the action for the night in the process.