Julian Draxler netted a superb brace to put Gent’s Champions League hopes in jeopardy as Wolfsburg ran out 3-2 winners at the Ghelamco Arena.
The German side marked their first appearance in the Champions League knockout stages with a first-leg victory over a Gent side that had been beaten just once in 30 previous home games, although the hosts mounted a late fightback to keep the tie close.
The Belgians’ resolve was dented when Draxler opened the scoring with a mazy run and clinical finish just before half-time, and the Germany international made it 2-0 when he chipped Gent goalkeeper Matz Sels 10 minutes after the break.
Max Kruse converted Christian Trasch’s cross as the tie looked about to slip out of Gent’s reach, but Sven Kums and Kalifa Coulibaly’s late strikes will give the Belgians hope in the second leg at Volkswagen Arena.
The result will have eased the pressure on Wolfsburg coach Dieter Hecking, whose side have the worst away record in the Bundesliga this season, while Gent boss Hein Vanhaezebrouck may soon be able to give his full attention to domestic action.
Draxler, who scored in Wolfsburg’s win over Ingolstadt in their previous outing, gave an early signal of his intentions after five minutes, cutting inside from the left and firing a dipping shot over the crossbar.
Hecking’s men looked determined to defy their dreadful away record but Gent almost found a chink in their armour when Laurent Depoitre’s knock down fell to Thomas Foket on the edge of the penalty area, only for the midfielder to scoop his shot well high of Koen Casteels’ goal.
The home crowd are unaccustomed to seeing their side struggle but they endured a nervous moment when Gent defender Stefan Mitrovic headed Max Arnold’s dangerous cross just wide of his own goal after half an hour.
Just as it looked as though Gent had survived the first-half onslaught, Draxler burst down the left wing, played a neat one-two with Vieirinha, and hooked a cool finish past Sels with his right foot to give Wolfsburg the lead.
Wolfsburg sent on Andre Schurrle to add to their attacking threat in the second half, and the lead was doubled within 10 minutes of the restart.
A woefully loose ball from Renato Neto allowed Draxler to intercept and he skipped past Mitrovic before executing a deft chip to beat Sels and make it 2-0.
Wolfsburg poured forward again and Trasch’s brilliant first-time cross found Kruse, who applied an instinctive finish to beat Sels despite pressure from Mitrovic to seemingly put the tie to bed.
But Gent were handed a lifeline when Kums skipped down the left and caught the Wolfsburg defence napping, slotting a simple finish past Casteels to make it 3-1.
And the complexion of the tie was turned on its head as substitute Kenny Saief crossed for Coulibaly to nod home at the near post to make it 3-2, although Wolfsburg’s 100 per cent home record in this season’s Champions League will give them cause for comfort in the return leg.
Key Opta stats:
– Gent have never beaten a German side on home soil in European competition (D2 L3).
– Julian Draxler scored his first Champions League away goals since October 2013.
– Draxler has scored in successive competitive appearances for the first time since May 2013.
– Gent kept up their record of scoring in every Champions League game that they have played in this season (seven games).