Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Three games in the Czech Republic starting with Plzen in the Europa League and a trip to Berlin to see Union play Cologne.
20th September Viktoria Plzen 3 Academica 1 Europa League 10,845
This game turned on a goalie error when Ricardo failed to hold a Horvath header when under pressure.
Plzen then had the initiative and they added two more headers to win comfortably.
Earlier the Portuguese visitors had led when Wilson Eduardo converted and for a while it looked like Academica with the backing of about 200 fans might keep control.
But once Viktoria were level and hence had the momentum there was only going to be one winner.
The local ultras kept up their support though the ground was not quite full for this third taste of the Europa League for Plzen.
The city itself is famous for being the home of the Pilsner brand.
And it has a pleasant centre with a market where I sampled some of the local produce.
21st September Union Berlin 2 Cologne 1 2. Bundesliga 16,750
I took the train via Prague to Berlin to see Union in their partly rebuilt stadium.
Currently there are three sides of the ground in use as the main stand is under construction.
Some 1,000 fans represented Cologne and they were packed into a section of one end.
It started well for the visitors who were awarded a penalty after just three minutes from which Broker scored.
But that was the high point for Cologne as first Brazilian Silvio forced in an equaliser and then later their captain Mattuschka’s left foot shot secured the win.
It was a game of few clear cut chances but plenty of noise.
The banners from the fans suggested they want to preserve the terraces and you could see why with such an atmosphere.
I took the S-bahn back to my hotel.
22nd September Pribram 1 Ceske Budejovice 1 Gambrinus League 1,960 (12 away)
An early train back to Prague and a couple of changes to get to Pribram.
Where the town was quiet on this Saturday to go with a quiet, low-key encounter.
(The barman who served my hot wine beforehand assumed I was going to the hockey stadium)
The stadium is on the western edge of town and it comprises 3 stands, two covered either side and a semi-temporary one at one end for the away fans.
I expected more than twelve to be supporting Ceske.
Not for the first time the man who was the focus of attention was the well known anti-hero Tomas Repka.
Within six minutes he had committed his first foul and on seventy he was booked but then, after the home goalie had mishandled a cross, he was there to drive in the equaliser.
Pribram had led when Strihavka nutmegged a defender for Trapp to convert but they couldn’t get another and in the end Ceske deserved a point in a game of few chances.
I trekked back to the centre and eventually found a restaurant that was open.
23rd September Dukla Prague 0 Slavia Prague 0 Gambrinus League 4,122
The Juliska stadium has various iconic features including the large swathes of unused terrace, the buildings at one end and the views of Prague.
Dukla produced a newspaper programme with a retro feel to go with the retro ground.
And wouldn’t it have been special to be transported back to the 60’s to see the likes of Josef Masopust in action.
Slavia probably had most of the support including many fans mixed in with the home supporters in the seats.
The away ultras had a small section of their own near the front.
Two good chances were spurned by Preucil of Dukla and Latka of Slavia and a definite handball was missed.
Apart from that neither side got very close even though the second half was more open.
It got cooler later and I made a brisk walk back to the tram followed by some local restaurant fare whilst watching the hockey highlights on TV.
more pictures at http://www.photobox.co.uk/album/1473267055
Monday, September 17, 2012
Seeing England play in Moldova followed by two games in Serie B in Italy on the way home.
7th September Moldova 0 England 5 World Cup qualifying 10,250 (1,000 away)
My route was via Milan and Timisoara to Chisinau where I arrived at around 4pm on the day of the game.
There was just time for a walk around the central area, a kebab and a shared taxi ride to the Zimbru stadium.
Arriving at 9.10pm, for a 9.45pm kickoff, was a misjudgement as it was chaotic outside with just one entrance being used resulting in the inevitable crush.
As happened a few times the locals proved more helpful than usual aiding my way as they did on the buses and shared taxis.
Many obviously appreciated people visiting their country.
And no doubt the local economy was boosted by the alcohol consumption of the visiting fans.
Once inside what is a small, neat, two tier ground it soon became clear this was going to be an easy night for England.
The initial penalty looked soft but the early goal and the subsequent Lampard header meant it was just a matter of how many would be scored.
The fourth, finished by Milner, was at the end of an Arsenal-like passing move.
Cleverley again played behind the striker and he showed he could ‘pass and move’ (time will tell if he can do more than that) plus both full backs exploited the ample space down the flanks.
But Moldova provided weak opposition so its hard to draw too many conclusions from this England performance as more difficult tests are to come.
I stood along the side with the locals, rather than behind the goal, and was able to exit quickly, grab a taxi and get back to my hotel before midnight for a couple of beers.
8th September Hellas Verona 2 Reggina 0 Serie B 14,647 (50 away)
Bus and then shared taxi (total cost 25p) to the airport in Chisinau for an Air Moldova flight to Venice and then a train to Verona.
This was a re-visit to the stadium where I saw Belgium beat South Korea in Italia 90.
The ground does not seemed to have changed much during the intervening years.
I sat in the second level with the two tiers above housing most of the fans - the home ultras to my right and the sparse numbers of away fans to the left.
The home side went ahead in the ninth minute when some defensive confusion allowed Laner to shoot in from close range.
Hellas clinched the win early in the second period when they were given a dubious looking penalty from which Gomez Taleb scored.
As seem often to be the case going two down (maybe even one down) in Italy means the losing side does not come back - and so it was.
Hellas were generally comfortable and never really looked in danger.
9th September Spezia 3 Brescia 1 Serie B 7,520 (300 away)
The train journey from Verona down to La Spezia takes around 5 hours with a stop in Milan.
Once you get to the region its clear this is a popular tourist area with the nearby ‘Cinque Terre’ (five villages) being a World Heritage Site.
So the tourist office is busy.
As was the Stadio Alberto Picco especially with the local side rising to the higher reaches of Serie B.
The ground has statues at the entrance and an attractive old main stand with open terraces at either end.
Brescia brought a lively group of ultras and they were noisy enough until the match turned towards the home side in the second half.
By then the home fans enjoyed baiting the visitors as Spezia had scored via a generous penalty and a second from striker Sansovini.
Earlier Brescia had looked dangerous with Swede Mitrovic and Caracciolo up front but the late first half equaliser from Sansovini readied the home side for a more forceful second period.
Outside, as I dodged around the scooters, I heard the locals mention Serie A and the Champions League - that would be some progression if it happened as Spezia were bankrupt in 2008.
On a warm evening in Liguria I settled down afterwards for an escalope and some vino rosso.
More pics at http://www.photobox.co.uk/album/1455119336
Wednesday, September 05, 2012
A ‘long weekend’ trip starting with Le Mans in France and then on to Switzerland for three more matches.
Easyjet from Luton to Paris CDG then TGV to Le Mans.
Which can certainly occupy the visitor for some hours with its very well preserved old town, Roman fortifications and some tempting looking restaurants.
I succumbed to the tourist attractions in bright, sunny weather but resisted the lunchtime meal instead settling for a baguette.
What it does lack is cyber cafes, at least one that is open as most were either permanently closed or shut for Friday prayers. In fact there were more specialist electronic cigarette shops.
31st August Le Mans 3 Clermont Foot 1 in Ligue 2 5,120
Le Mans now play in a newish stadium (or rather arena) located not far from the famous 24-hour racing circuit and conveniently at the end of one of the tram lines.
The fans who turned out left plenty of space in this 25,000 capacity ground which is clearly setup to cater for larger games.
They included twenty or so from Clermont who, I think, complained about the earlier than typical 6.45pm start time.
Striker Cisse scored two goals for the home side and they added a third before the visitors managed a glancing header from a free kick for their consolation.
Le Mans played well to push Foot near to the bottom of the league.
One possible local player for the future was the young, Ivorian, central defender Mory Kone.
I took the tram back to the centre and had some red wine before bed.
1st September Lausanne Sport 0 Grasshoppers 2 Super League 5,800
The inhabitants were opening their shutters as I walked to the station in Le Mans for the morning
TGV, via Paris, to Lausanne in the french-speaking part of Switzerland.
Upon arrival I walked up the large hill to my hotel and, later, onward to the Stade de la Pontaise.
Which is better suited as an athletics venue (although it was used during WC 1954) with its track, wide ends and curved roofed stands.
Some 300 Hoppers fans certainly provided plenty of pyrotechnics behind the left end goal and their team went on to deliver a result.
The crucial first goal was headed in by central defender Vilotic - who proved the highest Hopper of all.
Sub. Abrashi struck in the final minute but by then the home side were beaten and their fans frustrated.
2nd September Luzern 1 Young Boys 2 Super League 12,874
From french to german (speaking that is) and the picturesque city of Luzern.
Time for some snaps of the iconic river and towers and then a stroll to the rebuilt Swissporarena nicely kitted out in dark blue.
Again the away fans, 400 or so, produced the fireworks but the home ultras also kept up good support throughout.
Despite that the home side side were fairly limited only getting a late consolation by defender Puljic.
Earlier on the home goalie had carried over a Farnerud left footer to gift the Boys the opener.
Useful Venezuelan Gonzalez then scored the clinching goal from a breakaway.
I mingled with the heavy police presence as the away fans were escorted onto their trains, managed to retrieve by bag and got on the 16.18 to Bellinzona.
Which passed some stunning scenery along the way.
In Bellinzona I enjoyed some local wine and an escalope milanese whilst the locals strolled around, as in Italia.
3rd September Bellinzona 1 Aarau 2 Challenge League 1,500 (100 away)
The final game on this trip was at the Stadio Communale which is tree-lined and overlooked by mountains in a city with loads of scenery on offer, not least its three famous castles.
The ground is in the old style with a track, covered main stand and various sections of terrace including a portion at one end for the away fans.
I thought it was a decent turnout as the home side are clearly having some difficulties.
However the locals would go home disappointed with only a late cross/shot from veteran Hakan Yakin as a late consolation.
Before that the league leaders went ahead when Udinese-bound full back Widmer popped up to head in a cross.
The second on 81 minutes was thumped in by sub. Foschini and overall Aarau were in control in a game played in dry fairly mild conditions.
To finish two Ticino weissbiers as a nightcap.
And a return via the business city of Zurich where the Starbucks was filled with suits and laptops and the airport full of designer labels.
More pictures at http://www.photobox.co.uk/album/1437143777
More pictures at http://www.photobox.co.uk/album/1437143777