Bucharest - VfB Stuttgart did their hopes of qualifying for the first knockout round of the UEFA Europa League the world of good with a thumping 5-1 victory at Steaua Bucuresti. Four unanswered first-half strikes from Serdar Tasci, Martin Harnik, Gotoku Sakai and Shinji Okazaki effectively killed the contest with barely half an hour played, Okazaki adding another after the restart before the hosts nabbed a late consolation.

With one game still to play, Stuttgart remain second in Group E on eight points behind Steaua (10) and one clear of FC Kobenhavn, over whom they already have the edge on the head-to-head rule. Kobenhavn's win at Molde FK means that Steaua, unbeaten in 17 competitive outings going into this one, could also still be pipped at the qualification post.

Blistering start by Stuttgart

Stuttgart hit the ground running and skipper Tasci, who had been struggling ahead of the match with a muscular problem, seemed in no way impaired as he rose to power home Zdravko Kuzmanovic's corner with just five minutes on the clock. Far from sitting on their early lead, the Bundesliga outfit took the game to their hosts with a high-pressing, high-intensity performance which earned them a second goal in the 18th minute. Again it came from a Kuzmanovic set-piece, this time a free kick in from the left that home custodian Ciprian Tatarusanu could only knock to the side, where Harnik was on hand to nod home.

Five minutes and one long-range pot-shot from Steaua later, it was 3-0, this one going down as a Japanese co-production. Okazaki teed up a square ball on the edge of the area and full back Sakai drilled home a great finish to put VfB firmly in the driving seat. A couple of minutes later, Bucuresti passed up a golden opportunity to pull one back, Raul Rusescu laying Adrian Popa's low cross on a plate for Mihai Pinitilii, who contrived to fire over the bar.

The tally mounts

Instead of 3-1, it promptly became 4-0 to the visitors with just over half an hour played, Sakai this time providing the assist with a great cross for Okazaki to plant into the far corner with a precise header. That was that through to the break, barring Tatarusanu's close-range block that prevented Vedad Ibisevic adding number five.

For that, Stuttgart had to wait ten minutes into the second half, Okazaki grabbing his second after neither fresh-on sub Tamas Hajnal nor Ibisevic managed to knock Harnik's low cut-back over the line. With the result definitively done and dusted, Popa forced VfB keeper Sven Ulreich into rare action with a fine shot, equally well stopped in the 67th minute, shortly before Kuzmanovic, set up by Okazaki, failed to make it a round half-dozen at the other end. Costea did then find a way past Ulreich, slotting home a fine pass from Popa to put the faintest of glosses onto an evening to forget for the hosts


Steaua: Tatarusanu - Szukala, Chiriches, Gardos (Costea 32') - Bourceanu, Pintilii (Prepelita 58') - Chipciu, Latovlevici - Tanase, Popa - Rusescu

Stuttgart: Ulreich - Sakai, Tasci, Maza, Molinaro - Kvist - Gentner (Hajnal 46'), Kuzmanovic - Harnik (Traore 61'), Okazaki - Ibisevic

Goals: 0-1 Tasci (5'), 0-2 Harnik (18'), 0-3 Sakai (23'), 0-4 Okazaki (31'), 0-5 Okazaki (55'), 1-5 Costea (83')