Julian Draxler netted twice as Wolfsburg sealed a 3-2 win at Gent on Wednesday to leave the Germans on course for the Champions League quarter-finals.
The 22-year-old scored either side of the break in the last 16, first-leg clash, with Max Kruse also on target, but two late goals from Gent gave the Belgian champions some hope for the return leg on March 8 in Wolfsburg.
Draxler was superb at the Ghelamco Arena, having also tormented Manchester United in Wolfsburg’s 3-2 win in December in the final round of group matches which condemned Louis van Gaal’s Red Devils to the Europa League.
Draxler’s Germany team-mate Kruse added Wolfsburg’s third on 60 minutes as the Gent defense capitulated and he nearly added a fourth just moments later by hitting the woodwork.
But Wolfsburg, last season’s German Cup winners, lost their shape badly after Gent captain Sven Kums scored with 10 minutes to go before Kalifa Coulibaly added a second just before the final whistle.
“You have to see a game like that through to the end, but we were too unsure of ourselves,” said Wolfsburg’s director of sport Klaus Allofs before praising Draxler.
“Julian is about the best there is in German football.”
Draxler was unhappy as Wolfsburg threw away a 3-0 lead.
“We lost our thread and dropped down a gear,” said the Germany star.
“We messed up a good result and there are mixed feelings.
“Nevertheless, we have to stay positive. We still have everything in our own hands.”
Persistent pressure from the away side paid off just before half-time when Draxler created a superb opening goal.
He showed why Wolfsburg paid 35 million euros ($39.4m) to sign him from Schalke last August by brilliantly turning Thomas Foket near the left touchline.
Draxler then sprinted away from the defense and played a neat one-two with Vieirinha before slotting the return pass into the bottom right-hand corner on 44 minutes.
Draxler went on to double Wolfsburg’s lead just after the break when he pounced on a mistake in the Gent defense.
The 22-year-old snapped up a loose pass, played the ball between Stefan Mitrovic’s legs and chipped Gent’s onrushing goalkeeper Matz Sels on 54 minutes.
His classy finish took the wind out of the hosts’ sails, and Wolfsburg’s third followed six minutes later when Christian Traesch’s pin-point cross was met in the middle by Kruse, who fired home from close range.
The Wolfsburg striker hit the woodwork two minutes later as the Gent defense again left him in acres of space, but he mistimed his shot.
Gent were surprise qualifiers from their group behind winners Zenit St Petersburg, knocking out Valencia and Lyon, and they finally showed some fighting spirit in the closing stages.
Kums gave his side hope by beating two defenders and curling his shot around Wolfsburg’s Belgian goalkeeper Koen Casteels 10 minutes from time.
Wolfsburg’s defense vanished and Coulibaly headed their second on 89 minutes when he got in front of centre-back Dante at a corner to give his side some reason to believe for the return.
200+ Channels With Sports & News
- Starting price: $33/mo. for fubo Latino Package
- Watch Premier League, World Cup, Euro 2024 & more
- Includes NBC, USA, FOX, ESPN, CBSSN & more
Live & On Demand TV Streaming
- Price: $69.99/mo. for Entertainment package
- Watch World Cup, Euro 2024 & MLS
- Includes ESPN, ESPN2, FS1 + local channels
Many Sports & ESPN Originals
- Price: $6.99/mo. (or get ESPN+, Hulu & Disney+ for $13.99/mo.)
- Features Bundesliga, LaLiga, Championship, & more
- Also includes daily ESPN FC news & highlights show
2,000+ soccer games per year
- Price: $4.99/mo
- Features Champions League, Serie A, Europa League & NWSL
- Includes CBS, Star Trek & CBS Sports HQ
175 Premier League Games & PL TV
- Starting price: $4.99/mo. for Peacock Premium
- Watch 175 exclusive EPL games per season
- Includes Premier League TV channel plus movies, TV shows & more
- Chelsea sale to Boehly consortium to be completed on Monday
- Liverpool and Real Madrid ready for Champions League final rematch
- Where to find Liverpool vs. Real Madrid on US TV
- Hrustic, Rogic spearhead Australia squad for crunch World Cup playoff
- Deal Alert: Best streaming deals this Memorial Day Weekend
- Africa beckons for Royal after dramatic draw with Orlando Pirates
- Regret? Skupski prioritises French Open over Champions League ticket
- Klopp urges Liverpool to show Madrid who’s boss in Champions League final
- Ancelotti says Real Madrid can achieve ‘the maximum’ by winning Champions League
- Mancini thanks Chiellini before Italy send-off against Argentina