Sammir(right) in action against PFC Ludogorec
Written by Colin O’Haravić
Late-game heroics by striker Ante Rukavina, earned GNK Dinamo Zagreb a tough 1-1 draw with Bulgarian champions, PFC Ludogorec. Rukavina’s goal stole away a seemingly sure and historic win from the European new comers in the 93rd minute in front of a crowd of 6,000 in the Ludogorec Arena. An epic finish to an otherwise lackluster match is what Dinamo needed to end their 7-match European losing streak.
“I think that Ludogorec justified everything we thought about them ahead of the game,” said Dinamo head coach, Ante Čačić
The hosts gave the away team a welcoming introduction prior to the match. A brief history of Dinamo Zagreb’s decorated history was announced over the P.A. to the crowd; recalling the Eternal Derby, previous trophies, and their dominance in the HNL.
Dinamo opened the game with sloppy play and a noticeable lack of desire. The midfield was full of poor passes and turnovers, while the defense was timid and even absent at times. Ludogorec took advantage of Dinamo’s play and struck early in the match. 31-year-old midfielder, Emil Gargorov, took the first shot of the game in the fourth minute that was deflected away from the goal. Shortly after, Ivan Stoyanav puts a shot just off target. Several minutes later, Ivan Kelava is forced to make his his first save of the match on another shot from Gargorov.
Ludogorec continued their offensive barrage on Dinamo’s defense in the first half, totaling nine shots, two of them being on target. A bright spot for the modri in the first half was Tomečak’s offensive pressure. Sammir brought the ball through the middle and made a smart pass to Tomečak who entered the penalty area, but just sent the ball over the cross bar.
Dinamo started the second half much more concise than the previous half, but could not successfully take a shot on target. Better passing and possession proved Zagreb to be the stronger team, but a defensive breakdown cost them dearly.
Stoyanov received a lofted pass down the right wing and controlled it and beat Ibañez. He cuts to the center and sends a cross to a virtually unmarked Marcelinho in the center. The 27-year-old Brazilian heads the ball just over the fingers of a desperate Kelava to score his first-ever European goal.
Dinamo came to life after going down 1-0 and created several chances to score. Opportunities came from Badelj, Tomečak, Čop, Sammir, and Beqiraj, who entered the game for an injured Pivarić.
It took the 89th minute substitute to finally take the one shot that mattered. Sammir received a high pass from behind and had to leap in the air to give a one touch cross that floated to the back post where Rukavina and Vida were positioned. The ball reached Rukavina’s head and he nearly jumped through the keeper to reach it and put it in the net from about half a yard out.
Dinamo was the better team in second half, despite the lackluster start to the game. They were then able to salvage the always important away goal to squeak out of Bulgaria without the loss on their minds. “Once they reached their potential, then we were much better and created a number of chances,” Čačić said. “They were better and more concrete and after 45 minutes.”
The boys return home to Zagreb with the advantage in the score to play the second leg at Maksimir on Wednesday, July 25. “In Zagreb, we wait for a different game and in front of our fans we believe we will advance,” Čačić said.