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Wolfsburg – To Russia With Hope

Wolfsburg will be looking for success in this year’s Europa League to make up for a disappointing domestic season in the Bundesliga. The reigning German Champions are currently sitting in the bottom half of the table and coach Armin Veh, who replaced Felix McGarth in the summer, was dismissed in January. Former Cologne chief Lorenz-Gunther Kostner has now taken over the reigns as caretaker until the end of the season.

Sports News - February 06, 2010

Wolfsburg caretaker-coach Lorenz-Gunther Kostner will be hoping to oversee Europa League success with the club this season.

But Wolfsburg will feel they should not even be in the Europa League at all after coming agonisingly close to reaching the last 16 of the Champions League in their debut campaign in the competition. They began in fine style as a hat-trick from Brazilian Grafite gave them a 3-1 home victory over CSKA Moscow on Match Day 1 and, after a narrow 2-1 defeat at Old Trafford; they then took four points from six against Besiktas. This included an impressive 3-0 win in Istanbul which put them on the brink of qualification to the knock out stage.

A win in Moscow on Match Day 5 would have secured their place in the last 16 and a first half goal from Bosnian Edin Dzeko looked to have set them on the way but CSKA struck twice in the second half to take qualification down to the wire.

The final round of fixtures saw Wolfsburg needing to beat Manchester United at home to be sure of going through, or hope that CSKA lost in Istanbul, but neither result went their way on a night of high drama. A goal from Dzeko was once again not enough for the Germans as a hat-trick from Michael Owen gave United a 3-1 victory while CSKA surprisingly won 2-1 at Besiktas to secure second place in the group.

The draw for the last 32 of the Europa League saw Wolfsburg paired with Villarreal and what a thrilling tie it turned out to be. The first leg in the El Madrigal saw Wolfsburg came from behind with a second half brace from Grafite, the second of which came from the penalty spot just six minutes from time, to give them a very useful 2-2 draw.
The second leg was even more exciting for the Germans as Dzeko, an own goal from Angel Lopez and a strike from Christian Gentner all but sealed their path to the last 16 before half time while Grafite then added a fourth for Wolfsburg in the second half to complete the 6-3 aggregate success.

Sports News - February 25, 2010

Wolfsburg players celebrate a goal in the 4-1 home win over Villarreal in the second leg at the Volkswagen Arena.

Standing in the way of Wolfsburg and a place in the quarter finals are the recently crowned Russian Champions Rubin Kazan, who enjoyed a surprise 2-1 win in the Nou Camp in a Champions League group match back in October.
Rubin romped to their second successive National Championship in November but this is now effectively their pre season and the Russians only competitive matches of 2010 were the two legs of the previous round against Hapoel Tel Aviv, which they won 3-0 on aggregate.

Meanwhile Wolfsburg have slowly begun to find their best form after an dreadful domestic run of ten matches without a win either side of the winter break which ultimately cost Veh his job. The team have slowly started to turn things around under Kostner and the 1-0 win at Hanover last Sunday was their second successive victory so they will travel to Russia this week in good spirits.

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