Oliver Glasner’s unbeaten run as head coach only rarely looked like being brought to an end at the Volkswagen Arena against a Ukrainian outfit who were nevertheless energetic and determined, and who will, despite the result, likely pose problems for the other two teams in the pool, AS Saint-Etienne and KAA Gent. Goals from Maximilian Arnold, Admir Mehmedi and Josip Brekalo did the damage in a match that the Wolves thoroughly deserved to win.
Glasner made just one change to the team that started the most recent Bundesliga match against Fortuna Düsseldorf, bringing in Swiss international Kevin Mbabu for William on the right side of midfield. At the back, meanwhile, Marcel Tisserand continued to deputise for the injured John Brooks.
The Ukrainian visitors, who finished third in their domestic league last season, did not look overwhelmed by the occasion in the opening stages, aiming a couple of speculative efforts towards Pavao Pervan’s goal, one of which forced the Austrian into a fine diving save. VfL gradually took control of the match, however, and began to exert some pressure on the Oleksandriya defence, with Jerome Roussillon and Josip Brekalo looking particularly dangerous. The breakthrough for the home side came in the 20th minute, when a breath-taking move, in which Tisserand and Mehmedi both showed off their ball skills, concluded with Arnold firing in a long-range shot that was misjudged by goalkeeper Yuriy Pankiv and ended up in the back of the net. The Ukrainians barely had time to digest that setback before the Green-Whites struck again, Mehmedi producing a fantastic finish after being brilliantly set up by Brekalo’s backheel.
Oleksandriya started the second half strongly, intent on finding a way back into the match, and they got a lifeline in the 66th minute when Yevhen Banada stretched to squeeze the ball past Pervan at the near post. Any suggestions of an unlikely comeback were immediately dispensed, however, when Brekalo found himself in the right place at the right time one minute later to restore his side’s two-goal lead.
As the game drew to a close, the Wolves could – and probably should – have added more goals to their tally, as first Arnold smashed a trademark effort just past the left-hand post and then Wout Weghorst uncharacteristically shot straight at the ’keeper after creating space for himself. In the pre-match press conference, Mehmedi had talked about involvement in the Europa League being a “treat” for the players, but in the end it was the home faithful who were treated, as VfL put in an excellent performance and laid down a marker for the subsequent European nights to come.
VfL Wolfsburg: Pervan – Knoche, Guilavogui (c), Tisserand (Bruma 70’) – Mbabu, Gerhardt, Arnold, Roussillon – Brekalo (Nmecha 76’), Weghorst, Mehmedi (Steffen 86’)
FC Oleksandriya: Pankiv (c) – Pashayez, Dubra, Bukhal, Miroshnichenko – Banada, Dovhyi (Kovalets 46’), Hrechyshkin – Luchkevich (Protasov 81’), Sitalo, Tretyakov (Shastal 65’)
Goals: Arnold (20’), Mehmedi (24’), Banada (66’), Brekalo (67’)
Yellow cards: - / Banada, Dubra
Referee: Halis Ozkahya (Turkey)
Video: Highlights and goals
Video: Post-match reactions
Reactions of the coaches