Udinese’s Europa League hopes are hanging by a thread after they hit the woodwork three times, but lost 3-1 at home to Slovan Liberec. If they go out, it will be the third consecutive year Francesco Guidolin’s men have crashed out of a competition at this stage.
The first leg of this Europa League play-off was at the Stadio Nereo Rocco in Trieste, as the Stadio Friuli is being restructured this summer. Luis Muriel partnered Antonio Di Natale with Ivan Kelava replacing the injured Zeljko Brkic in goal. Slovan Liberec finished third in the Czech league last season.
Udinese got off to a blistering start, as after five minutes Muriel rattled the woodwork with a shot against the bar, having sprinted through the defence on to Giampiero Pinzi’s pass. Di Natale’s free kick also whistled wide and Danilo couldn’t keep his header on target.
However, Slovan Liberec took a shock lead with a potentially-crucial away goal to silence the crowd. Ukrainian Serhiy Rybalka robbed Allan in midfield and curled a remarkable left-foot finish past the helpless Kelava from all of 30 yards out.
Di Natale volleyed over from an Allan assist and Danilo again went close when he just failed to redirect a Di Natale cross-shot at the back post as he came sliding in.
The pressure finally paid off with Gabriel Silva snatching the equaliser, though Di Natale deserves much of the credit. The captain burst into the box and curled a cross on to the foot of Silva, whose volley bounced off the turf and into the net.
Muriel had a shot charged down and Udinese notched up numerous corners, but went into the break at 1-1.
After the restart Andrea Lazzari forced a save out of Kovar with his daisy-cutter, but once again Slovan Liberec were incredibly clinical.
It was another goal out of nowhere, as the visitors went on a rapid counter-attack and caught the defence out, allowing Dzon Delarge to turn in relatively undisturbed.
Once more Udinese were called into a fightback, so Dusan Basta tested the goalkeeper and Lazzari wasted a golden opportunity to equalise. Di Natale just missed the ball when sliding in, so it came to Lazzari who attempted to walk his way into the net and was denied by a Kovac goalline clearance.
Di Natale was left with a huge bandage to stem the bleeding after a nasty clash of heads, while Piotr Zielinski blasted over from the edge of the box after coming off the bench.
Zielinski did better as an assist-man, as Di Natale dived on to his chipped pass and the goalkeeper smothered at his feet in the six-yard box.
Udinese were truly unlucky when Dusan Basta was allowed a free header from a corner and it thumped the base of the upright with the goalkeeper rooted to the spot.
Slovan Liberec survived the pressure of a series of corners and extended their lead with a third away goal. It was another spectacular effort, this time Ondrej Kusnir curling a magnificent finish into the far top corner from 25 yards.
Kovar flew to palm a Maicosuel screamer out of the top corner and moments later Udinese hit the frame of the goal for the third time with Danilo’s glancing header.
Udinese’s frustration was palpable, as they notched up 14 corners to 0 and 27 shots on goal to seven, not to mention hitting the woodwork three times.
Udinese 1-3 Slovan Liberec
Scorers: Rybalka 16 (S), Gabriel Silva 35 (U), Delarge 49 (S), Kusnir 83 (S)
Udinese: Kelava; Heurtaux, Danilo, Domizzi; Basta, Allan, Pinzi (Zielinski 63), Lazzari (Maicosuel 63), Gabriel Silva; Muriel, Di Natale
Slovan Liberec: Kovar; Kusnir, Kovac, Kelic, Fleisman; Sackey (Husek 84); Delarge (Hadascok 90), Rybalka, Pavelka, Frydek (Sural 65); Rabusic
Ref: Hagen (NOR)