Distress for Awoniyi, delight for Olayinka, dreamland for Dessers as Super Eagles stars endure a night of mixed fortunes

With Cyriel Dessers’ Feyenoord through as group leaders, only one other Nigerian international could join him in securing qualification out of Group E

Peter Olayinka’s night ended in celebration, and Taiwo Awoniyi’s in anguish as Slavia Prague knocked Union Berlin out of the Europa Conference League following a 1-1 draw at the Olympiastadion Berlin on Thursday.

Awoniyi and Olayinka have been in excellent form for their respective sides in recent times, and there was no surprise to see the two Super Eagles stars named on the respective lineups. Their primary objectives on the night, though, were different. 

Before kick-off, second place Slavia Prague knew that avoiding defeat would be enough to progress to the round of 32. In contrast, third place Union Berlin needed an outright victory to overtake the Czech champions.

And after a cagey first half, Slavia drew first blood through Ivan Schranz five minutes after the halftime break. But Max Kruse brought proceedings back to levelled terms shortly after the hour mark.

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Tamed by the central defensive trio of Taras Kacharaba, Aiham Ousou, and Lukas Masopust, Awoniyi was substituted for Kevin Behrens with 20 minutes of regulation time left. Slavia also introduced energetic Nigerian midfielder Ubong Ekpai as the visitors looked to cage the desperate home side.

But there was no further goal as Slavia booked their spot just behind Feyenoord, leaving Awoniyi and Union Berlin to rue their missed chances. 

Elsewhere in the dead rubber Group E match at de Kuip, Cyriel Dessers scored his fourth Europa Conference League goal of the season to power Feyenoord to a 2-1 victory over Maccabi Haifa.

The Dutch giants were guaranteed top spot in the group regardless of the matchday six results, but they still refused to lift the foot off the gas against the hapless Israelis.

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And Dessers, one-cap Nigerian international, gave the home side the lead in the 38th minute after pouncing on a Mark Diemers pass.

Former Arsenal lad Reiss Nelson added a second in the second half before Din David netted a consolation strike for Haifa.

But Feyenoord had done enough over six gameweeks to progress straight to the round of 16 as group winners.