Leander Dendoncker seals Wolves’ group-stage place at expense of Torino

Sometimes Nuno Espírito Santo makes it his mission to puncture hype but after watching his team reach the Europa League group stage by completing an impressive aggregate victory over Torino, the Wolves manager allowed himself to trumpet his team’s success.

“It’s fantastic, isn’t it?” said Nuno in a tone uncharacteristically close to giddiness after goals from Raúl Jiménez and Leander Dendoncker, either side of a reply by Andrea Belotti, gave his side a 5-3 win on aggregate that took them into Friday’s draw.

For a manager who took charge of Wolves in 2017 when they were still in the Championship, and for a club who had not competed in a major European competition for nearly 40 years until this season, this is a feat to cherish. “The work started two years ago in the Championship – all this work, building and building,” he said.

“What the boys have done is fantastic. It’s very important for us. Massive. Massive. We will sit down and watch the draw and that will be a pleasure for all Wolves fans.”

Given the way certain other clubs have looked down on the Europa League in recent seasons, it is refreshing how Wolves have embraced it. The way they have played – winning six matches out of six – gives them genuine hope of venturing beyond the group stage no matter whom they are pitted against. Chances are that few of their group opponents will be as nifty as Torino, one of the toughest adversaries Wolves could have been paired with for the play-off. They gave the home side a rigorous test but Wolves ultimately passed it with flying colours.

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Nuno Espirito Santo is taking his team into Europe.

Nuno Espirito Santo is taking his team into Europe. Photograph: Ryan Browne/BPI/Rex/Shutterstock

This was their ninth match in 36 days since they kicked off their season at the end of July but no one at Molineux is grumbling about a heavy workload. Perhaps it will take a toll later in the season, but Nuno thinks otherwise. “This is what we want,” he said. “We want to play and play. We use games as a tool for us to grow as a team.”

His team selection reflected that conviction. The only alteration from the first leg was to bring back Jonny Otto at left wing-back instead of Rúben Vinagre, whose foul in Turin led to Belotti scoring a late penalty that kept Torino’s qualification hopes alive.

Belotti caused the most trouble to Wolves in that game and the striker proved a pest again. But not only him, because Torino started with a brisk menace that suggested they fancied their chances of becoming the first visitors since January to win here. They took most of the initiative early on, pressing energetically and looking to unhinge Wolves with zippy passing and movement.

Wolves held firm for the most part, though they had a fright in the 16th minute when a headed clearance by Conor Coady fell to Tomás Rincón at the edge of the area. The Venezuelan’s volley whizzed a couple of yards wide.

It was 24 minutes before Wolves rattled the visitors thanks to the exhilarating speed and directness of Adama Traoré, who raced straight through the defence from halfway before Salvatore Sirigu batted away his shot from 10 yards.

Wolves seemed to take heart from that while Torino grew even more wary of Traoré, whose progression from erratic winger to consistently brilliant wing-back has been one of the most thrilling features of their season.

It did not take him long to underline that point. On the half-hour he threw the visitors into a panic again, teasing Temitayo Aina and Sasa Lukic down the right before splitting them with a perfect cross to Jiménez, who nipped in front of two defenders at the near post to produce the finish that the build-up deserved.

A full Molineux under the floodlights is always a picture and that goal added an extra dash of beauty.

Torino did not lie down. Rui Patrício had to stretch himself to swat away a free-kick from Daniele Beselli in the 50th minute. That was merely a warning: in the 56th minute Beselli whipped in another free-kick from the left and Belotti darted into its path and flicked a header in from six yards.

The comeback was on. And then it was off. Within 55 seconds Wolves had restored their lead, Diogo Jota forcing a save from Sirigu before Dendoncker guided the rebound into the net via a post.

“We got confused,” said the Torino manager, Walter Mazzarri, adding that his side failed to stop Wolves because “we were too euphoric about scoring a goal”.

At full-time the celebrations were all from the home team’s staff and fans. Wolves’ European adventure will last for six more matches – at least.


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