Sporting 0-0 Wolfsburg (aggregate score: 0-2)
Sporting threw everything they had at German outfit Wolfsburg at the Alvalade tonight, but a mixture of inspirational goalkeeping from former Nacional stopper Diego Benaglio, some wasteful finishing and the woodwork prevented the Lions from staging a comeback.
Despite more than matching the Bundesliga high fliers for three quarters of the Europa Liga tie, a poor second half in Germany ultimately made the difference as the goalless final scoreline brings the Portuguese side's European adventures to an end for the 2014/15 season.
Sporting's already tough task of pulling back a two-goal deficit from the first leg was made even more difficult by the fact one of their top performers this season, left-back Jefferson, was ruled out of the game as a disciplinarian measure after rowing with club president Bruno de Carvalho over a thwarted transfer to Dinamo Kiev. First-choice striker Slimani was not yet fully fit and began the game on the bench, with Tanaka chosen as the number nine in place of Fredy Montero.
Benaglio shines as Wolfsburg survive Sporting storm
After a cagey opening half hour in which neither goalkeeper was called into action, Sporting burst into life in the final 15 minutes of the first half. Tanaka shot narrowly wide, William Carvalho's curling effort forced Benaglio into a fine diving save, and from the resulting corner Tobias Figueiredo's header was cleared off the line by a defender.
Sporting then had a triple chance as Tanaka raced through on goal but was denied by Benaglio, Adrien's follow-up effort was charged down, and João Mário skied the rebound. the Lions went even closer on the stroke of half time as João Mário showed a superb change of pace to beat his marker, hit the by-line and cut back an inviting pass to Tanaka. The Japanese striker hit is shot first-time and was unlucky to see it deflect off Benaglio and onto the post, with the ball rolling capriciously back into the grateful goalkeeper's hands.
The second half followed much the same pattern, with Sporting again creating several clear goal-scoring opportunities, but Tanaka, Carrillo and Nani failed to find the back of the net. As the home team poured more and more men forward space began to appear at the back. A De Bruyne shot thudded back into play off the inside of the post and Jonathan Silva got away with an obvious penalty committed against Dost.
Defeat would have been harsh on Sporting, though, and it is difficult to argue with coach Marco Silva's post-match assessment that: "Sporting played an excellent match but were punished for lack of finishing having created 7 or 8 clear goalscoring chances. Over the two legs it was the finishing that was the difference between the two sides."
Overall Sporting can be reasonably happy with their return to European football this season, especially their commendable Champions League campaign. With a little more luck the team could easily have obtained better results, but looking at the bigger picture, and considering just two years ago Sporting endured the worst season in their long history, the club appears to be moving in the right direction.
Sporting: Rui Patrício, Cédric, Paulo Oliveira, Tobias Figueiredo, Jonathan Silva, William Carvalho, Adrien Silva (Slimani, 62'), João Mário, André Carrillo (Montero, 76'), Nani, Tanaka (Mané, 76')
by Tom Kundert at the Alvalade