Diogo Jota sprang from the bench to score a hat-trick in 12 second-half minutes and ensure Wolves finished their Europa League group campaign in style. Leander Dendoncker also scored as Nuno Espírito Santo’s men blew Besiktas away with a powerful second-half performance. That was not enough to leapfrog Braga at the top of the group but Wolves’ ability to play like this even after resting several regular starters is one of the reasons why they can be confident of advancing further in this competition no matter whom they are pitted against in Monday’s draw for the last 32.
As group runners-up, their potential opponents include Internazionale, Ajax, Red Bull Salzburg and Celtic. There are more exciting times ahead at Molineux.
After a goalless first half, and with Braga being held in Bratislava, there was still a chance of Wolves finishing top of their group and earning a notionally easier and less glamorous tie in the next round. They chased that prospect with gusto and romped to victory; but so did Braga in their game, meaning the Portuguese side retained top spot. Beating Wolves here in the first group match turned out to have been the group’s critical clash.
“The first game at home we did not play so good,” reflected Nuno. “But progressively through the competition we have got better and it took us to the knockout stages. We are delighted to be there.” This was Wolves’ 30th match of what has already been a memorable season. Acknowledging the demands his team face, Nuno omitted several key players so they could prolong the recuperation that began with three days’ warm-weather training in Marbella this week.
There was still a smattering of stalwarts but the bench was stocked with Jota and a raft of teenage rookies while 21-year-old Oskar Buur began at right wing-back. It was the Dane’s first appearance for the senior team since scoring on his debut in April 2018 against Hull. So while the team sheet offered a glimpse of Wolves’ future it also served as a reminder of how far the club has come in a short space of time.
The visitors, already eliminated, also shuffled their hand, making 10 changes to the lineup that started their last domestic match. They made a decent fist of things in the first half, keeping Wolves at bay withoutever threatening to pull off an improbable win.
Neither side, however, managed to summon enough ingenuity to create clear openings so there was a ripple of excitement in the 41st minute when the ball broke to Rúben Neves at the edge of the visitors’ area. Unfortunately, unless Neves’s effort was intended to bring a duffel-coated man at the back of the lower tier into play, the shot was an embarrassment.
“The first half was very competitive,” said Nuno. “We had a lot of the ball but didn’t create too many chances. In the second half we were more aggressive on the ball and had more running into space.” That was particularly true after the arrival of Jota in the 56th minute. Within two minutes he broke the deadlock.
It was a beautiful goal, with Jota’s plunging header from beyond the far post crowning an attack featuring a delicious flicked pass by Patrick Cutrone and a lovely cross byPedro Neto.
Soon Dendoncker nearly doubled the lead when a corner found him free in front of goal but his reflex shot from seven yards struck a post. Moments later Dendoncker had a shot from much farther out pushed on to the other post by the visiting goalkeeper. Jota reacted faster than any defender and converted the rebound.
Dendoncker refused to be denied, finally adding his name to the scoresheet with a fine header from a corner. Jota completed his hat-trick from close range two minutes later thanks to a cross from Buur.