Sam Vines set up the late equalizing goal for Royal Antwerp on Thursday, as they did what was needed in the first leg of their Europa Conference League play-off to stay on equal footing heading back to Belgium.
Istanbul Başakşehir 1 – 1 Royal Antwerp
The Great Old waited until the final seconds of their first leg against their Turkish hosts to finally wake up, however a late goal from Portuguese journeyman Dinis Almeida, set up by his American teammate, was enough for them to deem the night a success.
Sam Vines started and played the full game at left wing-back in a 3-5-2 setup trotted out by Mark van Bommel, as the teams unsuccessfully traded blows in the first half, before breaking through after the break.
Radja Nainggolan came close out of the gates following the intermission, forcing Istanbul keeper Volkan Babacan into a fine save from the former Belgian international’s distance shot.
However, the hosts finally struck first after 54 minutes, after Mounir Chouiar beat his marking defender to dribble into the area from the left, and fired his shot to the far post for the 1-0 lead.
However, Vines, who is making a strong case for a look in the September USMNT camp, was instrumental as the team pushed late to steal the draw in the final moments of regulation.
As Antwerp pushed forward in the 88th minute, the American sent a long, probing pass forward from 40 yards out towards the left side of the area. As luck would have it, Dinis Almeida had slipped free from his defender, and rose to sent an arching header back across the six-yard box, where it flew into the net for the dramatic equalizer.
With all things even after the first leg, Vines and his teammates will have the slight advantage before next Thursday’s second leg in front of their home crowd, where a win will put them in a group stage of European competition for the third straight season.
Hajdut Split youngster Rokas Pukštas was not in uniform on Thursday as the Croatians were all but eliminated from the competition after their 4-2 road loss at Villarreal.