Kienast takes Sturm a step closer.







Roman Kienast's strike proved the difference between the two sides as the Austrian champions moved closer to a return to the group stage.


SK Sturm Graz edged closer to their first UEFA Champions League group stage appearance since 2000/01 thanks to a 1-0 home defeat of FC Zestafoni.

Gia Geguchadze's visitors, aiming to improve on last week's 1-1 home draw, started the better of the two sides and went close through Nikoloz Gelashvili and Jaba Dvali but were unable to make their early dominance count. Instead the Georgian champions paid the ultimate price for their careless finishing after 68 minutes when Kienast completed a delightful Sturm move with a well-measured chip to seal his side's play-off place.

Zestafoni started on the front foot and had the game's first meaningful attempt after 14 minutes. Gelashvili latched onto goalkeeper Roin Kvaskhvadze's long pass but his audacious chip drifted narrowly wide with Christian Gratzei stranded.

Dvali's long-range effort soon afterwards was a further signal of Zestafoni's intent, although the hosts grew into the match towards the end of the half and came close to taking the lead but Kvaskhvadze was wise to Kienast's back-heel. Much improved after the break, Sturm were unfortunate not to go ahead through Andreas Holzl but the 26-year-old failed to find the target from close range.

The game settled into a regular pattern with the visitors content to play on the counterattack and Sturm struggling to break down a resilient visiting defence. This changed on 68 minutes as Franco Foda's side put together the move of the match, elegantly finished off by Kienast who lifted the ball over Kvaskhvadze to give his side a decisive lead.

Zestafoni were unable to find that elusive equaliser and it was the Austrian champions who seemed more likely to double their lead in the latter stages, with Darko Bodul and Kienast both going close. Sturm saw out the remaining minutes and will discover their play-off opponent in Friday's draw while the UEFA Europa League play-offs beckon for Zestafoni.