Everton scored either side of half-time to book their place in the knockout stages of this season’s Europa League competition.
After the calibre of their performances in the Europa League so far this season it is easy to forget that Everton haven’t featured in any European competition since 2010. Drawn into a group that wouldn’t look out of place in the Champions League, the Merseyside team certainly had their work cut out before a ball was kicked in the group stages, but they relished the challenge and have been rewarded for taking this competition so seriously.
The Europa League in recent years has been sneered at by Europe’s elite and a minority of journalists, but the competition continues to become ever more competitive, and with a place in next seasons Champions League the reward for the winner it is trophy which has never been so coveted. Wolfsburg and Everton both see winning this competition as a realistic target so had plenty to play for on a night on which they both knew a win would secure qualification to the next round.
Wolfsburg enjoyed spells of sustained possession in the first half but Everton’s robust back line limited them almost entirely to long range shots which the American veteran keeper Tim Howard had no trouble dealing with.
Ivan Perisic scored after the home side’s first incisive move but was unfortunate to be immediately flagged offside as video replays proved this decision to be incorrect.
Worse was to come for the home fans as Everton broke quickly from a Wolfsburg corner when Kevin Mirallas’ smart flicked pass found Romelu Lukaku bursting forward and the 21-year-old took the ball from the centre circle to the opposition box while fending off defenders’ challenges before smartly finishing past Diego Benaglio.
Lukaku is finally rediscovering last season’s form and justifying a record transfer fee for a club who have for years had no alternative to buy cheap. This was his first European goal since his Anderlect days and his fourth in eight games in all competitions.
At half-time both sides were aware that because of the result in this groups’ other match that a draw here would be sufficient to see both sides through to the next phase of the competition, but as the second half progressed it was obvious neither side were playing for a point.
Wolfsburg continued to test Tim Howard from a distance to no avail before Nicklas Bendtner headed home from close range following a corner only for the offside flag to be raised, this time correctly.
Aiden McGeady should have doubled the away side’s advantage but contrived to put a rebounded shot over the bar from a little over six yards out.
The Irish international may have been left ruing his missed opportunity as Wolfsburg hit the post twice through shots from Perisic and Maximilian Arnold but Everton’s aging back line rolled back the years and their resolve was rewarded fifteen minutes from time.
The two Belgians teamed up once again as Lukaku showed superb strength to hold up the ball on the half way line before expertly threading a through ball to Mirallas, who calmly dribbled to the edge on the box before finishing past the onrushing goalkeeper.
Ross Barkley also netted what would have been his first European goal before seeing it chalked off for offside in an extremely tight decision.
But that will matter little to Everton who have secured their place as group winners with still a home fixture against the eliminated Kuban Krasnodar to play.
Wolfsburg are still in good stead and need just a point from their last game against Lille to join Everton in the last 32.
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