Early Villa goal prevents Rapid win

Rapid Vienna’s chances to enter the UEFA Europa League’s group stage shrank last night (Thurs) as the 32-time Austrian league champs failed to beat Aston Villa.The English Premier League club held Rapid to a 1-1 draw in front of 17,500 fans at sold out Gerhard Hanappi Stadium in Vienna. Villa – who rested some of their best players including Gabriel Agbonlahor, Ashley Young and John Carew – dominated the first half.The Birmingham-based side took the lead in the 12th minute thanks to a goal by Barry Bannan following an assist by Marc Albrighton, the best player on the pitch in the first half. Clumsy Rapid left-back Markus Katzer – who was targeted by Villa some years ago – failed to stop the talented winger from providing several dangerous crosses for his teammates.The Green-Whites, who had a handful chances to score (Atdhe Nuhiu header, Steffen Hofmann free-kick) in the first half, upped their game after the 0-1 following a brief state of shock. Hofmann equalised the score in the 32nd minute as his high ball found its way into the net.The home team were the better side in the second 45 minutes but failed to seal victory in front of the eyes of national team manager Dietmar Constantini and ex-Rapid captain Peter Schöttel.Now Peter Pacult’s squad must win the return leg next Thursday or reach a 2-2 or higher draw to enter the competition’s group stage. Rapid managed to do so last season when they kicked out Aston Villa in the same round thanks to two goals by Croat striker Nikica Jelavic.Jelavic caused controversy yesterday by telling club bosses just hours before kickoff that he did not want to perform for Rapid any more. Club President Rudolf Edlinger said he regarded the 24-year-old’s statement as a “slap in the face of fans and members (of the club)”.The striker, who joined Rapid for less than one million Euros from Belgian team Zulte Waregem in 2008, would not have been allowed to perform for his potentially new club Glasgow Rangers in the Champions League group stage had he played for Rapid last night.The striker – who managed a comeback on the national team during his successful spell at Rapid – has been rumoured to be joining Rangers for weeks. His contract would have expired after this season. The Scottish side transferred around five million Euros to secure his services, according to reports.While a majority of fans debating developments in online discussion forums criticised Jelavic – with some of them calling him “Judavic” – the issue did not feature in chants sung by Rapid supporters throughout last night’s match.Now all eyes are on Rapid executive manager Alfred Hörtnagl. Many supporters think the club should sign a big name to replace Jelavic, while a minority agree with Rapid’s policy of helping young and talented players get better at the club.Albanian striker Hamdi Salihi could have the skills fully to fill the gap left by the Croat, while Nuhiu is regarded as talented but too inexperienced to become an immediate equal replacement. Former ASK Horitschon striker Christopher Trimmel is struggling with his form, while Rene Gartler is still Pacult’s favourite super-sub.Rapid, who finished the past Bundesliga season in third place, face SV Mattersburg on Sunday when the league continues.Meanwhile, the ÖFB Cup winners suffered a bitter home defeat against Italian giants Juventus in their Europa League qualifier.Leonardo Bonucci scored the opener for the away side (16’), before Sturm’s Croat defender Gordon Schildenfeld’s powerful header (82’) made it 1-1. Juve’s Amauri Carvalho de Oliveira netted in extra time (91’) to help his team retain their status as favourites to enter the group stage.Austrian Bundesliga vice champs Austria Vienna lost the first leg of their Europa League qualifier against Thessaloniki F.C. in Greece 0-1 on Tuesday.Austrian national team star Martin Harnik caused some good news. The former Werder Bremen ace scored the only goal in VfB Stuttgart’s victory against Slovak club SK Slovan Bratislava two minutes from the end last night. Harnik – who performed for Austria in Euro2008 – came on in the 67th minute.