- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 19, 2015

VIENNA (AP) - Shakhtar Donetsk beat Rapid Vienna 1-0 in the first leg of their Champions League playoff Wednesday, positioning itself for reaching the group stage for a sixth straight season.

Defender Yaroslav Rakitskiy set up Marlos in the 44th, and the Brazilian midfielder wrongfooted Rapid defender Stephan Auer before beating goalkeeper Jan Novota with a low diagonal shot.

Rapid pressed for an equalizer in the second half but was often too wayward in its passing on a rain-soaked pitch. Winger Louis Schaub missed the home team’s best chance when he dribbled past three defenders before sending his shot just wide.

“I am happy with this win,” Shakhtar coach Mircea Lucescu said through an interpreter. “Rapid was physically strong but we dominated the first half. They played well in the second half. We know this is the Champions League so we didn’t want to take any risks.”

Shakhtar has been in the group stage of the Champions League for every year since 2010. Last season, it was beaten by Bayern Munich in the round of 16.

Rapid is seeking its third appearance in the group stage and first in 10 years. The last Austrian team to qualify was Austria Vienna two years ago.

“We played a good game but luck wasn’t on our side,” Rapid coach Zoran Barisic said. “We could have taken the lead, and we could have scored the equalizer. We’ll travel to Ukraine to win. I think my team can do that.”

Both teams came close to taking the lead in a lively opening phase. Rakitskiy forced goalkeeper Novota into two diving saves with 25-meter efforts, while Novota also denied Olexandr Gladkiy from short range.

The nearly sold-out Ernst Happel Stadium erupted in the 10th minute when many fans believed Rapid scored but Mario Pavelic’s shot, which was deflected by Rakitskiy, landed in the side netting.

Referee Bjorn Kuipers, who booked eight players, denied Alex Teixeira a penalty after the Brazilian striker went down in the area from a tackle by Schaub in the 29th.

Minutes later, Schaub sent his header just wide off a Florian Kainz cross from the left, and Kainz had his volley blocked by Andriy Pyatov in the 43rd.

Shakhtar midfielder Taras Stepanenko was carried off the field on a stretcher and hospitalized after he and Rapid’s Srdan Grahovac slammed their heads just before halftime. Coach Lucescu said Stepanenko was undergoing medical tests but he had no immediate update on his condition.

Shakhtar had lost both its previous matches in Austria - 5-1 against Austria Vienna in 2002 and 3-1 against Salzburg four years later.


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