Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Germany & Switzerland October 2016

Starting in Germany and moving on to Switzerland for three games.

14th October  Sonnenhof Grossaspach 2 Paderborn 3  3.liga  1,100 (c. 120 away)

I’d flown into Stuttgart early on the Friday morning before getting the U- and S-bahns to Backnang thence onward by bus to the small town of Aspach.

The Mechatronik Arena comprises neat modern stands and a fine-looking ‘Alpine’ building housing the hospitality rooms.
It is more than enough for the requirements of the local fans.

SG have moved up some levels in contrast to Paderborn who are going in the opposite direction.

For most of this match SG looked to better side but the visitors took their chances and also benefited from playing against ten men for the final twenty minutes.
That was because of a home dismissal following an altercation in the area.

Prior to that SG had gone ahead on 18 minutes when a cross was converted at the near post.
But Slovenian Dedic levelled, following up his penalty after it had been blocked.
1-1 at the break and not long after the interval it was 1-3 as Paderborn converted a couple of chances including one more from Dedic.

Though SG got one back straightaway, from the lively Osei-Kwadwo, they never managed the ultimate equaliser.
That was despite a committed attack even with the ten men.

Paderborn’s win, watched by their small group of ultras, meant they moved closer to their opponents in mid-table.

Because of the relative isolation of the ground there was a reasonably convenient shuttle bus back to the S-bahn.
From there I made my way back to Stuttgart Nord.

15th October  Old Boys 2 Koniz 1  1.Liga Promotion  66

From Stuttgart to Basel and a pair of matches in the city separated by a couple of tram rides.

Firstly a visit to the Schutzenmatte stadium for this third level encounter.
Old Boys have a long history having been originally formed in 1894 and their ground is part of a sports complex that includes a tennis club, home to a useful player called Roger Federer.

The ground itself comprises some elderly terrace plus a sizeable main stand.
On a pleasant afternoon those that turned out saw a solid home win that moved the OB’s up a few places from near the bottom of the table.

They took the lead after 33 minutes when Terzic turned in a corner and that gave them a 1-0 lead at the break.

Following the interval we witnessed a penalty apiece and some late threats by the visitors, including bringing up the goalie for a corner, but OB held on for a valuable three points.

15th October  Basel 3 Luzern 0  Super League  27,261 (c. 250 away)

Meanwhile in the evening, across town, a bigger Basel team were taking on Luzern at the St Jakob.
The away fans produced some impressive pyro and both sets of ultras kept up good support throughout.

But it was the home side, impressively prompted by the midfield of Bjarnason, Serey Die, T. Xhaka and Renato Steffen, that went on to another victory.
This was their tenth out of eleven league matches.

In the end it proved a regulation win with goals from Seydou Doumbia (after a Delgado effort was saved), Michael Long (following a great breakaway move) and Elyounoussi (forced in at the death)
Luzern were reliant on Australian Tomi Juric and although he tested Vaclik in the Basel goal it was never enough to get anything.

Thus Basel kept well clear of the rest in the Super League, no doubt R. Federer would be have been pleased..
Much more serious tests will come in their remaining ties in the Champions League.

16th October  Schaffhausen 1 Servette 2  Challenge League  1,354 (c. 100 away)

Via Zurich to an Imperial City of the Holy Roman Empire and home to the Rhine Falls.

And at the ground, a pervading smell of gluhwein.
Not that it was too cold for this Sunday afternoon match in the sunshine.

Schaffhausen will move to a new stadium next year, away from the tree-lined Stadion Breite (terrace plus a couple of smallish stands)
They were two down within about 35 minutes after Berisha and Nsame had converted two half chances.

Despite enhancing their attack the home team managed just a single reply when a trundler from Facchinetti eluded the Servette goalie.
Perhaps if defender Nejc had converted a headed opportunity later on the result might have been different.

But it was the visitors who went away with the points.

I went away down the steep road back to the station for the ride back to my hotel near Zurich airport.
An early night followed my pizza.

Then a morning flight from Zurich airport (ideal for stocking up on caviar and the latest Tourbillon timepiece) to Luton (ideal for not much at the moment apart from maybe getting a parking ticket)

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Italy & Slovenia October 2016

A double in Tuscany followed by England’s World Cup qualifier in Slovenia.

Overnight in East Croydon, early train to Gatwick then a flight to Pisa .

Crumbling not leaning.

9th October  Pisa 0 SPAL 1  Serie B   2,722

The Arena Garibaldi, originally opened in 1919 and virtually opposite the leaning tower, has definitely seen better days.
It comprises large open stands/terrace plus a covered main stand.
Because of the crumbly nature of the ground, and the lack of investment, only season ticket holders (and assorted others, such as your correspondent) were allowed inside.

Outside were a large group of ultras who kept up their support, with the occasional flare, despite being unable to watch the action.
Such as it was, as there was not much near the goalmouth for most the contest.

Pisa edged the first half without getting in a serious blow.
The second period developed in a similar way until the visitors gradually had more play.

Just when it looked like an Italian 0-0 we had the decisive moment.
A home attack was repulsed then Antenucci broke down the right, and with space in the home defence, sub. Arini had time to score an easy winner.

Coach Gennaro Gattuso, obviously troubled by the state of the club, continued to bark his instructions but to no avail.
(Incidentally with his voice he could always get a role as a singer for a thrash metal band)

So more issues for Pisa.

I left and crossed the road passing the famous leaning tower and waited at the station for the train to Lucca for game 2.

My name is Lucca.

9th October  Lucchese 4 Lupa Roma 0  Lega Pro  1,810

It was a tight double as I only reached Lucca at about 6.18pm for the 6.30pm kick off.
But a taxi pulled up outside & I was at the ground in time to collect a ticket and make the start.

And see a much more lively encounter with Lucchese delivering three first half goals including a fine third, headed back across the goalie by Francesco Forte.

Being in a strong position at the break the home side did what you would expect - consolidate and waste time.
Lupa had more of the ball but couldn’t penetrate the opposition defence.

The seal on the victory came on 86 minutes when a cross was controlled by Martinez for a simple clincher.

This was another sizeable traditional ground with good sized open standing and covered main stand.

The weather stayed fairly mild and mostly dry for the brisk walk back to station for the return train to Pisa.

Thence onward via a stop in Trieste (including a very pleasant meal in a trattoria) to Ljubljana.

All Hart.

11th October Slovenia 0 England 0  World Cup qualifier  13,274 (c. 1800 away)

Ljubljana was quieter and less attractive on a chilly October day than our previous visit.
But you can enjoy a beer (many had more than one) and a pleasant meal before getting the free bus to the stadium for the 8.45pm start.

And there were less fans inside the stadium than last time.

To see a game that began brightly enough with hard pressing by the home side.
Their tactics certainly served to unsettle England who went on to make a series of passing errors.
As has been evident for some time the defence continued to look vulnerable.

But they were able to keep a clean sheet due to the heroics of Joe Hart in goal.
He made some superb blocks and saves particularly at the beginning of the second period.
Under a cloud since his departure from Man City he even showed composure when in possession.

There were few goalbound efforts from the visitors although sub. Townsend managed  
a tester. Each time Oblak was up to the task.

Not a great night for the watching England fans who now seem to be less tolerant of mistakes and quick to grumble at particular players (e.g. Sturridge)

However it was a point and it means we top the group having completed our likely two most difficult away trips.
Afterwards we pushed our way out (of the narrow exit) to the waiting buses and were back in the centre of town by 11pm.

The following morning I had a relaxing breakfast and stroll to the bus for the return journey via Trieste.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Sweden September 2016

Seven games in Sweden including derbies in Gothenburg and Stockholm.

From stormy weather in England, delays at Heathrow, to sunny Uppsala north of Stockholm.

16th September 2016  Sirius 2 Varnamo 0  Superettan  6,234

Sirius reside at the old style Studenternas stadium next to the water and a pleasant stroll through the park.
The ground, next door to the Bandy stadium,  is planned to be redeveloped soon and that corresponds with an uplift in the fortunes of the local team who seem destined to return to the top level after a long absence.

On the pitch this was a solid performance and a reasonably comfortable win.
A feature of the match was the lively performance of Ghanaian Kingsley Sarfo.
He lacked some quality but made up for that with consistent prompting and threats to the visiting defence.

Another African, captain Moses Ogbu had given the home side the lead and they added a second after the interval.
Varnamo, though generally second-best did have some chances particularly Culum and, later, sub Nkuru.
Both failed to convert leaving Sirius to claim the three points and make another step towards the Allsvenskan.

As the sun went down the temperature dropped and it got chillier but the locals, many of whom (like your correspondent) headed for the sports bars to watch Chelsea v Liverpool, were warmed by the result.

This being the land of the £7 pint meant one drink and just the burger at the game for sustenance.

17th September  BK Forward 1 Akropolis IF 1  Division 1 North   105

From Uppsala to Orebro for this third level match.
Trangens IP immediately gives the impression of a typically lower-level Swedish ground with lots of trees, grass and two, small, old stands.
It prompted an admiring stroll around the perimeter.

Once we got going the pattern established was of the visitors passing the ball and the home side backing off and making fast breaks.
Despite having much less possession you somehow knew Forward would score first.

And so it was that Carlsson squeezed in an effort off the post on 32 minutes.
Suddenly Forward were on top and Akropolis frustrated.
1-0 at the break.

But the higher ranked visitors would eventually get parity.
Tall (and vociferous) Italian striker Polo should have scored earlier, contriving to hit the bar from 5 yards, before he headed home a left wing cross.
Both sides pushed for a winner in a more lively second period but it ended 1-1.

Akropolis, presumably of Greek origins and with a variety of names on the teamsheet (Rajamohan, Ymeraj, Alemayehu, Mitropoulos), thus remain in third although some way behind the league leaders.

Back in the centre of Orebro the evening was spent (being the operative word) in O’Learys watching Everton beat Middlesbrough.

18th September Assyriska 0 Frej 0  Superettan  942

Returning to the capital I stayed in Jarva, near Solna, to the north of the city.

Much further south is the stadium of Assyriska which is shared with Syrianska.
It comprises a sizeable stand plus open terraces, some of which are semi-temporary.
There were no problems fitting the crowd , which looked a lot less than the published figure, into the main stand.

Many of those present represented the cultural background of the club and that was reinforced by the drums and music.
We also had a group of Assyrian bikers attending - not something you tend to see at Chelsea.

The home side are in danger of relegation and they could have done with three points but it was not to be.
Both sides missed good chances, Frej had an effort cleared off the line and front man Soderstrom shot over when well placed.
Most of the action happened later on with two dismissals, firstly two yellows for Graden of the visitors then a straight red for Ugonna Anyora for what seemed a stray elbow.

So no goals.

Back via bus and train and just snacks in the hotel.

19th September  BK Hacken 2 IFK Gothenburg 2  Allsvenskan   6,380 (c.2500 away)

A stayed on a ship in the harbour before getting the tram to the rebuilt (four neat, smallish stands) Bravida Arena for this derby game.

The vociferous IFK fans brought copious flares to provide the cameramen with plenty of nice shots.
All that made it an excellent atmosphere and the game itself matched the off-field vibrancy.

IFK began quickly testing the home goalie before they were awarded what looked like a dubious penalty, for a high challenge.
Emil Salomonsson smashed home the spot kick.

As the half wore on Hacken would gradually get more play.

However, on 60 mins, they made the task harder when Abubakari was tackled in midfield and IFK broke away for Omarsson to score an easy second.

But the home side would stage a great comeback prompted by the arrival of Nigerian Owoeri just after the hour.
Firstly he stepped in from the left and produced a great right foot effort for 1-2.

Then his cross was controlled by Alhassan Kamara (Sierra Leone) in the area who then drove in a superb leveller.

On a reasonably mild evening it ended the scoring in the best and liveliest game so far.

Afterwards back via tram to the boat for a couple of glasses of red before bed.

20th September  Angelholm 1 GAIS 5  Superettan  626 (c. 150 away)

I stopped at Halmstad before making the half hour train ride to Angelholm for this Tuesday evening encounter.
In mild and windless conditions we witnessed the home side self-destructing and handing the visitors an easy three points.

Initially it seemed Angelholm might get level after they shipped two goals late in the first period.
They managed to respond with one strike and only went in one goal down.

But disaster followed just after the hour mark.
Prince Adjesi (Ghana) appeared as a sub. and immediately got involved in a tackle that resulted in him being dismissed.
And to make it even worse he was injured and ended up being carried off.

Not longer after that defender Dyrestam got a second yellow and the home side were down to nine men.

That opened the way for South African sub. Luther Singh to convert two easy chances and Malkom Moenza to compound the misery with a fifth in added time.

Angelholm could certainly have done with the points in their battle against relegation but it was not likely after they lost their discipline.
Many of the home fans had drifted away before the end while the away contingent (positioned in two small stands - 'Army of Dreamers') could enjoy their trip back to Gothenburg.

Conveniently enough (Sweden is not short of organisation) there was a train some twenty five minutes after the match finished & I was back in Halmstad by 9.45pm.
Which is another benefit of 7pm kick-offs - there is still part of the evening left.

21st September  Djurgarden 0 AIK 3  Allsvenskan  22,197 (c. 8,000 away)

A return to Stockholm and another boat for a hotel - certainly cosy and with nice views of the harbour.

The new Tele2 Arena, conveniently situated south of the city with 4 or 5 metro stations close by (again good Swedish organisation) hosted this derby.

And if you want good choreo and copious amounts of pyro look no further.
We had all that from both sets of ultras with one end engulfed in blue smoke and the other yellow and black.
Perfect !
In fact there so much of it that the start of both halves was delayed for around 15 minutes before the play could begin.

Many of the locals probably wished the smoke would never clear in order to hide their team’s performance.

AIK showed how to convert chances with striker Alexander Isak netting one in each half.
Whereas the home side missed their best opportunities.

Not that it halted the noise from both sets of fans.
The Djurgarden ultras never relented despite many of their fellow fans leaving once AIK had scored their third goal on 76 minutes.
And what a goal it was.

Nigerian Chinedu Obasi had just come on as a substitute and he immediately won a tackle and jinked past a couple of defenders to shoot home left footed in front of the ecstatic away ultras.
That set the seal on a solid win for AIK who stayed third behind Norrkoping and Malmo.

No problems going back via the metro and I was back on the boat within about thirty minutes.
What better than to contemplate the game whilst admiring Stockholm harbour nursing a glass of Merlot ?

22nd September  Atvidabergs 2 Syrianska 1  Superettan  1,623 (c. 20 away)

From my base in Linkoping I took the bus to the small town of Atvidaberg.

Small it is - in fact it can claim to be the smallest town in Sweden to have produced top level champions.
That was twice in the 1970’s when they were sponsored by (ex-) calculator company Facit.
Amongst their past coaches was famed Englishman George Raynor who went on to have significant success with the Swedish national team.

To go with all that they have an interesting ground, the Kopparvallen vintage 1907, comprising an attractive old stand, larger main version and decent sized terraces.
To the right were a lively group of away fans with flags and a drum.

On the field it was the home side who got the points thanks to two left wing crosses.
The first headed in by striker Maholli, the second diverted in for an o.g.

Before that Atvidabergs had a defender red-carded - a straightforward ‘last man’ scenario.
Sadly for Syrianska they failed to take advantage.
It looks like their lack of goals could endanger their status.

Only in the closing minutes did Martinique front man Yoann Arquin get the ball in the net for their consolation.
The weather got a little chilly but thankfully the wind was light.
My bus was near enough on time for the ride back to Linkoping.

As for Sweden itself - admire the organisation, the healthy citizens (all that crispbread and cycling), the scenery and the enlightened outlook for big matches (allowing all those flares and smoke)
But accept that the budget will be compromised and, obviously, winter would be another matter.