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Linfield have no answer for Zurich’s class as drop into Europa Conference League play-offs now looks likely

Linfield’s Europa League dream hit the buffers against Swiss giants FC Zürich last night at Windsor Park.

The Blues approached the first leg of the third qualifying round with faint confidence after last week’s sobering Champions League defeat by Bodo/Glimt – they were beaten 8-0 in the second leg – so it would always be a huge test of character.

Aiyegun Tosin and Wilfred Gnonto score the goals that will give the Swiss champions the advantage when David Healy’s side travel to the Letzigrund next week – but the Blues obviously still have ambitions to become the Irish League’s first team to win the Group stage reached European competition.

Franco Foda’s team are now favorites to face Scottish club Hearts in a Europa League group stage play-off, while the Blues face either RFS (Latvia) or Hibernians in the Europa Conference League play-offs (Malta) draw last night 1-1.

The result meant the Blues conceded their impressive home unbeaten record. They finished the entire season with a flawless slate at the international venue and although they defeated both TNS and Bodo in the European clash, Zurich proved too far away.

Healy’s side tried desperately to shake off the fatigue after that horrifying experience in Norway, where they lost the influential Kirk Millar after just 20 minutes when he was sent off for stopping a goal with the ball on the goal line. He was suspended for one game.

That meant Healy had to rearrange his starting XI, handing Eetu Vertainen a shirt and replacing Jordan Stewart with midfield workhorse Kyle McClean.

Defender Jimmy Callacher was still absent through injury but Oxford United new signing Joel Cooper took his place on the substitutes’ bench – the first time since his injury against TNS.

Spurred on by their raucous, flag-waving 400+ crowd, who chanted and chanted throughout the game, Zürich took just eight minutes to get to the front.

In their first tangible attack, they smashed the Blues with a wonderful chop from Antonio Marchesano who rammed Tosin into the box and his finish was great as he slotted the ball cleanly past the stranded Chris Johns.

It was the first time the Blues had fallen behind in a home game in over a year.

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Robbie McDaid shows his frustration after a missed opportunity

But they showed great resilience and should have been even after 18 minutes. McClean’s free-kick from the left ricocheted off some bodies and fell invitingly towards Robbie McDaid, but instead of opening his scoring account for his new club, he was only able to find goalkeeper Yanick Brecher’s legs.

And after McClean’s ensuing corner, headed over by Sam Roscoe, they came close again before defender Cheick Conde called the ball clear.

Tall Finnish striker Vertainen then charged down the left flank, cutting into defender Lindrit Kamberi and drilling in a cross that was expertly picked up by Brecher.

But the visitors were always dangerous up front and in another lightning attack Gnonto found Jonathan Okita rolling a 22-yard beauty inches over the bar.

And they gave the Blues another scare nine minutes before the break. This time, Gnonto spun and teased past Roscoe before releasing, only to see his shot knocked off Johns’ gloves.

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Chris Shields can’t stop FC Zurich’s Aiyegun Tosin from scoring the opening goal at Windsor Park

In another quick attack, the hard-working Marchesano sent Italy international Gnonto down the left flank, only to see his effort gobbled up by the alert Johns.

The Blues equalized and were almost rewarded when McDaid’s cross from the right was blocked by Vertainen’s header by Kamberi.

Seconds later, defender Ben Hall joined his forwards and managed to head in for Matty Clarke’s corner and when the ball fell to Vertainen his ragged shot was saved by Brecher.

Cooper’s introduction also gave the Blues a boost and when he went down under a clumsy challenge from Mirlind Kryeziu, the home fans were on their feet and demanding a penalty. The Italian referee Marco di Bello was not so convinced.

But it was Zurich who struck again in the 64th minute. This man Gnonto roared through the middle, leaving Hall behind before picking his spot in the bottom corner – game, set and match.

LINFIELD: Johns, Byrne, Shields, McClean (Stewart 68), McDaid (Cooper 53), Hall, A Clarke (Devine 87), Finlayson, Fallon, Mulgrew (Palmer 68), Vertaine (McKee 68).

Unused Subs: Walsh, Williamson, Newberry, Pepper, Quinn, A. Clarke, Archer.

FC ZURICH: Brecher, Kamberi, Aliti, Seinaes (Hornschuch 61), Marchesano (Avdijaj 72), Okita (Mets 61), Tosin (Rohner 72), Conde, Boranijasevic, Gnonto (Krasniqi 85), Kyeziu.

Unused substitutes: Kostadinovic, De Nitti, Omeragic, Hodza, Sieler, Sauter, Gogia.

REFEREE: Marco di Bello (Italy).

Man of the match: Wilfried Gnonto

Game rating: 8/10

https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/sport/football/irish-league/linfield/linfield-have-no-answer-for-zurichs-class-as-drop-into-europa-conference-league-play-offs-now-looks-likely-41890988.html Linfield have no answer for Zurich’s class as drop into Europa Conference League play-offs now looks likely

Linh

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