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Last gasp winner sends Koka’s Rio Ave through to Europa League group stages

Rio AveAhmed Hassan ‘Koka’ played the whole 90 minutes as Rio Ave scored a dramatic winner in the dying minutes to progress to the Europa League group stage.

Trailing 2-1 from the first leg, Rio Ave entered this game full of confidence, having trashed Estoril domestically at the weekend, 5-1, with Koka netting a hat-trick.

Rio Ave picked up where they left off in Sweden, dominating possession and creating some decent openings with their slick and direct passing. They were certainly more offensive in this game, though, because they had a one goal deficit to overturn.

Koka had a quiet first half, failing to capitalise on space created by the wingers that were flanking him. He looked rather frustrated at times, but he looked more and more lively as the game progressed.

Rio Ave failed to make a breakthrough in the first half,  despite having numerous chances to take the lead.

Gouano was the first player to test the opposing goalkeeper, but his close range effort in the 18th minute was easily dealt with by the Danish stopper, Stuhr-Ellegaard.

Several other chances followed with Diego Lopes going close twice inside the space of four minutes just after the half hour mark, but poor finishing let him down on both occasions.

It ended 0-0 at the break, and out of the two teams, Elfsborg would have been the happier to go in at the interval goalless, as they were coming under serious amounts of pressure from the Rio Ave front-men towards the latter end of the half.

The best chance of the opening exchanges of the second half came from the visitors, after they won a free-kick on the edge of the box and Beckmann’s low drive caught the goalkeeper unaware, but bounced off the post, and Rio Ave breathed a huge sign of relief. That would turn out to be Elfsborg’s best chance of the game.

As the second half progressed, things were getting tense – Rio Ave knew they had to score to progress, while the visitors (though not ideal) were relatively happy with trying to defend their slender one goal lead, venturing forward on occasion to test the high line Rio Ave were now playing.

Rio Ave were getting more offensive, and but for some fantastic goalkeeping from Elfsborg’s Stuhr-Ellegaard to keep out a Diego header after 65 minutes, they probably could have won the game much earlier.

Koka’s first real chance of the game came after 72 minutes, when he tried an audacious overhead kick, but it was never troubling the keeper and was blazed over the bar.

He was starting to look more lively as the game entered the final 20-25 minutes and had an amazing chance to win it on 89 minutes, after his diving header was superbly saved by the Danish goalkeeper.

Just as it looked to be heading for a scoreless draw, the Rio Ave goalkeeper, Cássio, hoofed the ball up field in a last ditch attempt to try and create an opening for his team mates, this time, fortunately, it worked because the awkward bounce on the ball was headed backwards by one of the Elfsborg midfielders, into the path of Esmaël Gonçalves, whose scuffed shot somehow found its way into the net to send the 7,000 strong crowd wild.

It was a deserved winner for the Portuguese side, who were easily the better side over the two legs and they will now go into Friday’s draw for the group stage.

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