Europa League: A massive achievement – Wolves qualify for last 16 despite defeat

Wolves players celebrate
Wolves go through to the last 16 of the competition for the first time since 1971-72

Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo said his side’s qualification for the Europa League last 16 is a “massive achievement”, despite Jonathan Calleri’s hat-trick condemning them to a narrow defeat at Espanyol.

The Premier League side travelled to Barcelona in full control of the tie after their emphatic 4-0 win at Molineux in the first leg, and although they were beaten in Spain, Nuno insisted he was “proud” of his players.

“I’m very proud with the way the players have been working and dedicating themselves, and I think it has been massive,” he said.

“It’s massive for the club, massive for the city and we are happy, but we want to keep going.

“Keep going with the hard work, and this gel between players is amazing, but we need to keep on going.”

The hosts took the lead through Argentine forward Calleri, who tapped in David Lopez’s cross for his first European goal, before Barcelona-born Adama Traore’s away goal effectively killed the tie.

Espanyol began the second half requiring another five goals to advance but they continued to press and were rewarded when Calleri hit his second from the spot after Max Kilman was penalised for a high boot on David Lopez.

Wolves equalised for a second time when Matt Doherty side-footed Daniel Podence’s neat cross into an empty net, but the La Liga side had the final say on the night when Calleri headed in his third in injury time.

The visitors could have taken the lead moments earlier but substitute Pedro Neto failed to hit an open goal after latching on to a misplaced backpass and rounding the goalkeeper.

The draw for the last 16 takes place on Friday at 12:00 GMT.

Below-par Wolves get the job done

Nuno said he was “worried” before kick-off, even with his side’s healthy advantage after the first leg.

And although qualification was never really in doubt, the performance by some of Nuno’s fringe players will have been a concern with the club still competing in two competitions.

Espanyol are the second lowest scorers in La Liga and are rooted to the bottom of the Spanish top flight, but they dominated possession (63%) and produced double as many shots on target (six) as their visitors (three).

The Portuguese boss made five changes, with youngsters Kilman, Morgan Gibbs-White and full debutant Podence among those given the chance to impress, but the visitors started poorly as Calleri opened the scoring.

Traore equalised with a huge slice of fortune as his first shot came back to him off the heels of the defender before his second attempt was parried into the corner by goalkeeper Andres Prieto.

There was a lack of attacking quality at either end but Espanyol went back in front when Wolves failed to clear their lines as Kilman conceded the spot-kick for Calleri’s second.

Wolves hit back with a rare attack of their own but Calleri completed his hat-trick as he rose highest to meet Pipa’s cross with a guided header into the corner.

Nuno’s side go through, and more experienced players will return, but Espanyol exposed frailties that will need resolving if Wolves are to go deeper into a competition that they began the day as fifth favourites to win.

Man of the match – Jonathan Calleri (Espanyol)

Jonathan Calleri
Calleri scored an impressive hat-trick in Barcelona, including the last-gasp winner

‘We are proud of what we’ve been doing’ – what they said

Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo: “It was a tough game. Espanyol pressed very high and controlled many areas, we were organised, but we should have done better with the ball.

“When we analyse the game, we have to realise the players and we have to be cautious and prudent about it.

“I think we should have done better, but the hard work was there, the organisation was there, the fans are happy because we made something that is massive for us. It’s a lot of hard work; last season, qualifiers, play-offs, group stages – all these things, so we are proud of what we’ve been doing.”



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