Wolfsburg have put themselves into a good position to qualify for the Champions League quarterfinals, after recording a 3-2 win away at Belgian side Gent on Wednesday. Julian Draxler twice found the net before Max Kruse added a third, though late goals from Sven Kums and Kalifa Coulibaly gave Gent some hope of overturning their deficit in the second leg.
The visitors made a bright start to the match, with Draxler cutting inside off the left flank and fizzing a dangerous shot narrowly over the crossbar in the opening few minutes. It had the home crowd breathing sighs of relief, with Gent allowing their opponents an early sighting of goal.
However, to their credit, the Belgian outfit recovered from their nervy start, and began to grow in confidence. Only five minutes after Draxler's shot, they produced their best early opening: a deep cross from the left was knocked down for Thomas Foket, though the wingback could only smash the ball over.
Midway through the half, Wolfsburg went close again. In a scrappy first half of successive individual errors, it would have been oddly fitting had Gent center back Stefan Mitrović headed Max Arnold's chipped cross into his own goal. Fortunately for the hosts, the ball crept just wide.
Eventually their luck did run out, with Wolfsburg finally taking the advantage in the dying moments of the first half. An excellent turn by Draxler down the left saw him escape the attention of his marker Foket, before slicing through the center of the defense with a sharp one-two with Vieirinha. The man who started the move finished it with a cool finish, and the visitors had an away goal.
Gent's second-half response was initially positive, though they were once again undone by a sloppy mistake soon after the restart. Draxler pounced on a sloppy giveaway in midfield, promptly prodding the ball through the legs of Mitrović and chipping the ball over Matz Seis for 2-0.
On the hour, Wolfsburg added a third. Christian Träsch found space in behind Gent's Nana Asare, before delivering a perfect cross for Kruse to poke home at the near post. Gent looked at risk of crumbling, and almost conceded a fourth instantly; fortunately for them, Kruse saw his shot come back off the woodwork before bouncing clear.
To their credit, they called in the final quarter-of-an-hour, and and managed to pull a goal back with 10 minutes left. Captain Kums skipped in off the left side and tidily curled the ball inside Koen Casteel's far post.
Bubbling with confidence, they suddenly surged forward in a bid to score a second. With a couple of minutes left on the clock, they did so. A cross from the left by Kenneth Saief was nodded home at the near post by fellow substitute Coulibaly, cutting their deficit to just a goal. There's no doubt they've still got a big job on their hands heading into the second leg, but their late flurry has given them a genuine chance.
Gent: Matz Sels; Nana Asare, Stefan Mitrović, Lasse Nielsen; Brecht Dejaegere, Sven Kums, Renato Neto, Danijel Miličević (Kenneth Saief 62'), Thomas Foket; Moses Simon (Thomas Matton 80'), Laurent Depoitre (Kalifa Coulibaly 80').
Goals: Kums (80'), Coulibaly (89').
Wolfsburg: Koen Casteels; Ricardo Rodríguez, Robin Knoche, Dante, Sebastian Jung (André Schürrle 45+1'); Luiz Gustavo, Christian Träsch; Julian Draxler, Maximilian Arnold, Vieirinha (Marcel Schäfer 80'); Max Kruse (Leandro Putaro 90+2').
Goals: Draxler (44', 54'), Kruse (60').
1. Gent were undone by unforced errors
Watching this match back, Gent manager Hein Vanhaezebrouck will be furious. He specifically warned his side against making "stupid mistakes" before the match, having seen his side recently eliminated from the Belgian Cup in such a fashion, though his players didn't seem to be listening. For the most part, they were well organized, but a couple of sloppy mistakes have almost certainly cost them the opportunity of a place in the quarterfinals.
2. Wolfsburg worked the channels well
That said, there's no denying the respective shapes of both sides played into Wolfsburg's hands. Gent's use of a back three meant the visitors' wingers were constantly able to find dangerous pockets of space out in the wide areas, and two of their three goals came as a direct result of this tactical advantage. It'd be a surprise if Gent don't change their formation for the second leg.
3. Why Gent have a Native American on their crest
The BBC have answered this bizarre question, explaining that it resulted from the visit of Buffalo Bill and his show to Gent in the late 19th century. Students in attendance were so impressed by the show and its reception that they adopted the symbol of a Native American for their newly formed football club. Voila.