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Strasbourg squeak past Maccabi Haïfa; Lokomotiv Plovdiv next

Thierry Laurey will be well-pleased to have seen his RC Strasbourg side progress from this Europa League qualifier with a decent away performance – with much of Alsatian tension relieved by a 17th minute Ludovic Ajorque goal, but the game will be quickly forgotten owing to the violent scenes in Israel that have marred the backdrop to what should have been a very routine mid-summer fixture.

The violence will, of course, take the headlines with reported injuries to fans before the match after clashes between groups; the response from UEFA will be interesting to note at this early stage of the season. But really Racing Club will be looking to put this fixture behind them after the result became immaterial with the pre-match issues, and they will look forward to the start of the new domestic season with a renewed purpose after having the first round proper of the Europa League closer in their sights. Next they will face Lokomotiv Plovdiv in the subsequent qualifying round.

On the night the hosts would have wanted to have taken the initiative, to swing the momentum of a good result in France for Le Racing in the first leg, but when Strasbourg took the lead after 17 minutes, the Israelis saw the best hopes of overturning the result evaporated, all save for a fairytale European comeback.

Laurey stuck to his tactical beliefs to deliver qualification over the two legs, with two players up top despite needing to protect an aggregate advantage. Similarly, the resolve of his side will have been a relief to see before the nitty gritty of the season proper gets underway.

A side finishing very much mid-table last season, that has not seen major departures, and that has strengthened in key areas will be excited about the prospects of a future adventure in Europe and boosted by a solid two-legged win against a decent and spirited Maccabi side that finished runners-up in the Israeli Premier League last season: Laurey would have hoped his side might have built upon their early lead to put any doubts to bed, whilst they did not, putting this tie behind them will be the biggest prize taken out of an evening where bugger things than football came into play.

Two goals in reply from the home side before half-time tipped the score away from Strasbourg and thoughts would have turned and belief might have sapped in the Mediterranean humidity, as jeopardy returned to a tie. However, the ability of the French side to see through tough circumstances bodes well for a tough season ahead for Racing.

A note too for Jean-Ricner Bellegarde, an under-the-radar signing from RC Lens, was particularly impressive.

D.R.

 

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