Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Champions League and FA Cup finals 2013

Two Wembley finals - the UEFA Champions League and the FA Cup final 2013.

Munchen glad Robben is back.

25th May Bayern Munich 2 Borussia Dortmund 1  Champions League Final  86,298

Definitely one of the best atmospheres at the ‘new’ Wembley.

In the first ever all-German Champions League final both sets of fans delivered although you had to feel for the Borussia supporters who were denied their planned choreography and had to watch as the Bayern fans did theirs and also managed to smuggle in some flares as well.

Was the match a tactical triumph for Bayern allowing Borussia to dominate most of the first half and then turn it around in the second ?

The renowned Bayern defence stayed solid despite the Dortmund pressure and eventually Robben played his part crossing for Mandzukic to convert then scoring himself in the final minute.

Borussia had equalised through a Gundogan penalty and perhaps the result might have different if Dante had got a second yellow card (and if Borussia had made earlier substitutions ?)

But in many ways Bayern, having dominated the Bundesliga season so emphatically and having lost so cruelly to Chelsea in their own stadium last year, deserved the triumph.

Despite the speculation I doubt that this final signals a period of dominance for German teams in  the Champions League - so expect better from the Premier League and La Liga next season.

Elementary my dear Watson.

11th May  Manchester City 0 Wigan Athletic 1  FA Cup Final  86,254

You could get odds of around 7-1 on a Wigan win and one guy I met on the train home had benefited from betting on such a result.
Most of the others in the carriages were City fans bemoaning the insipid performance of their team.
But many, like those in the stadium, remained eternally grateful to coach Roberto Mancini for delivering the league title last season.

On a cloudy and cool day the Wigan fans sang along to ‘I’m a believer’ and their faith was rewarded as their team made an impressive start.
And that pattern continued with City often sluggish against a lively opposition for whom McManaman was often a threat.

Maloney went close with a free kick and Tevez had a shot blocked before Zabaleta got sent off.

And so to the final minutes - a Maloney corner, a Watson header and Wigan won the Cup for the first time.
Then it was just a case, for one punter, of keeping that betting slip dry to claim his winnings.

It was a double-edged victory for Wigan who will be playing in the Championship (and the Europa League) next season whilst City can reflect on a disappointing performance but look forward to the arrival of a new coach and undoubtedly some more investment.

more pics at  http://www.photobox.co.uk/album/1906668764

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Germany & Swiss Cup Final May 2013

Three matches including the final league games at Darmstadt and Braunschweig plus the Swiss Cup Final in Bern.

Hallo Regionalliga.

18th May Darmstadt 1 Stuttgarter Kickers 1  3.Liga   13,600 (1,000 away)

Bright, sunny and mild weather welcomed a sizeable crowd to the old style stadion Bollenfalltor in Darmstadt for this relegation battle.

The home side started by pressing hard and it was rather against the run of play when Dicklhuber volleyed in left footed on 10 minutes to give the Kickers the lead.

Both teams, as indicated by their lowly league positions, lacked some quality.

Most of the danger created by the home side was from set pieces and they gradually got closer as the game moved into the second half.
Zimmerman went close and sub. da Costa hit the post before the Brazilian finished off from close range after Darmstadt pressure.

That equaliser enlivened the home fans and for the remaining ten minutes Darmstadt played with five forwards as they strived for a winner.
But to no avail and the large contingent from Stuttgart could celebrate.

Meanwhile the locals’ thoughts would turn to life in the Regionalliga next season.

Back in the centre I admired Ludwig’s column and then chose an early meal of chilli con carne followed by churros in a Mexican restaurant.

Hallo Bundesliga.

19th May Eintracht Braunschweig 2 FSV Frankfurt 2   2.Liga   21,000 (250 away)

Eintracht had already confirmed their place in the Bundesliga before this match so it was an afternoon of celebrations in Lower Saxony.

As I passed through the centre of town the palace was being prepared for the evening’s entertainment and the home fans were congregating nearby to get in the mood.

And in the (not unpleasant, single tier) stadium the balloons were blown up and the flags got ready.
The ultras produced their choreo in the packed terrace and the home side began with a goal in the second minute when Dennis Kruppke was put through.
But after that FSV had the edge and they equalised when Gorlitz drove in a left wing cross.

The visitors then went ahead just after half-time when  Australian Mathew Leckie broke down the left and crossed for Kapllani to convert.

Eintracht made some substitutions and that seemed to reinvigorate them culminating in a second for Kruppke - this time from a free kick.

But overall it is hard to see Braunschweig surviving in the top level without more quality players.

Not that that bothered the fans at the end of the match as they gathered around the perimeter to run on the pitch and celebrate promotion to the Bundesliga for the first time in 28 years.

What do you hear said Master Po ?  I hear the Grasshopper(s)

20th May  Basel 1 Grasshoppers 1 (Grasshoppers won 4-3 on penalties)     27,290 (split about 50:50)

From Darmstadt via Frankfurt to Bern and the Stade de Suisse for the Swiss Cup Final.

Your correspondent glimpsed the Basel ultras making their way across the Kornhausbrucke and joined them later on the way to the stadium, flares lit and bottles in hand.

The stadium seems to suit the occasion with its two tiers and symmetric ends allowing the hard core fans to prominently do their thing.

So we had choreo beforehand and plenty of pyro during and after the game.
Once the smoke had cleared it was the fans from Zurich who had the most to celebrate with the Grasshoppers winning their first Swiss Cup for nearly twenty years.

Basel might have had more quality but they seemed too cautious and created little in the first period apart from a good shot from Diaz.

Grasshoppers generally showed more aggression although they would go behind to a deflected effort from Steinhofer on 71 minutes.
An equaliser soon followed as Hajrovic converted from close in after Sommer had parried.

And so to extra time when the two main incidents where a decent penalty shout for Grasshoppers and a Bobbadilla shot that was well saved.

The drama continued on a chilly, breezy afternoon with penalties to decide the result.

One wayward shot from the men in blue and white compared to two that clipped the bar from Basel (including, crucially striker Bobbadilla) meant that the final conversion by Serbian Vilotic decided the outcome.

I suspect there were many more smashed bottles on the route back to Basel.

Staying locally I settled for a pizza and a weizenbier and returned via Basel on the Tuesday.

more pics at  http://www.photobox.co.uk/album/1898433443

Friday, May 03, 2013

Germany April 2013

Five matches in Germany including Mainz v Frankfurt and Fortuna Dusseldorf v Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga.

26th April Ingolstadt 0 Eintracht Braunschweig 1  2.Bundesliga  9,471 (3,000 away)

Ingolstadt’s relatively new stadium is on the outside of town and it has an airy feel with the space between the roofs and the seating making for a more comfortable watch on a warm Friday evening.

The visitors brought a large contingent, who packed the away terrace, many of whom were drinking outside in the sunshine before the game.
They would no doubt be enjoying some more afterwards as their team confirmed their place in the Bundesliga for the first time in 28 years with this win.

Most of the match was too fragmented with slow build ups, misplaced passing and not much goalmouth incident.
Eintracht top scorer Domi Kumbela did have his chance but he mis-kicked wide when through on goal.

And so it was left to Bosnian Vrancic to supply the winner with a very late free kick and (literally) spark the celebrations.

Like many this new ground uses the fan card system for purchases of refreshments. It meant I saved some cash but went thirsty.

Getting back to the main station for my train to Nurnberg was not as easy as in most places, not helped by the rain.

27th April  Alemannia Aachen 1 Heidenheim 2  3.Liga  7,326 (100 away)

I took the early train to Frankfurt then on to Aachen for this 3rd level encounter between bottom club Alemannia and Heidenheim in 5th.

The new Tivoli stadium is close to the old ground and it is sizeable and impressive, more like a Bundesliga setup rather than for a team (at best) playing in the Regionalliga.
Because Aachen have had their problems and they had more on the pitch, not helped by a red card for defender Brauer.

Alemannia missed a great first half chance when two players broke away only for one to overhit the vital pass.
But in general the visitors looked better in possession.

They took the lead when the home captain Herroder headed a weak back pass and sub. Bagceci pounced.
The crucial second came from a penalty after Deutsche was brought down.

And although Alemannia did get a late consolation it was never enough.

That home goal did give some encouragement to the locals and the large end terrace would undoubtedly produce plenty of noise if and when matters improve.

27th April Fortuna Dusseldorf 1 Borussia Dortmund 2  Bundesliga  54,000 (5,000 away)

The ‘double’ from Aachen to Dusseldorf proved somewhat fraught.
The taxi from the Tivoli to the main station worked fine but my scheduled train was cancelled and the connection via Cologne failed as well leaving me on a slow train to Dusseldorf.

So, with less than 30 minutes to kickoff, I took advice from some locals and got off at Neuss from where I took another taxi to the Esprit Arena and made it to my seat just as the game began.
In many countries it would have been very difficult to make the start because of the traffic going to a sellout game but here nearly everyone was there (stereotypically ?) early.

The game proved the strength of Borussia who started with just one player (Hummels) from their usual eleven ahead of their second leg Champions League encounter with Real Madrid.

Despite a brisk start from Fortuna the visitors, backed a large away group of fans, went ahead when the excellent Sahin shot in an opportunistic left footer from 30 yards.

He would play a starring role in this victory, also supplying the pass from which sub. Blaszczykowski scored the second on 70 minutes.

We also saw twenty minutes of Dortmund hero Lewandowski as well as a late appearance by Marco Reus.

Fortuna, in danger of relegation, certainly had their moments and especially threatened from crosses, finally scoring when Bodzek headed in at the far post.
Before that they were denied what seemed a definite penalty when Hummels handled.

But despite some late drama Borussia held on to maintain their momentum going into the vital Madrid match.

The atmosphere was noisy but it was interesting to note that if the stadium had larger, central, end terrace sections (as at Aachen or Mainz) the experience would have been even better.

Getting away on the U-Bahn was well organised and, though crowded, less fraught than getting there. ‘Dinner’ was a chocolate bar and a Jack Daniels + coke drink.

28th April  Mainz 0 Eintracht Frankfurt 0  Bundesliga  34,000 (5,000 away)

A cool Sunday morning in Mainz and you can wander around the market areas before getting the bus to the Coface Arena for the Rhine-Main derby.

The locals certainly provided a decent rendition of ‘You’ll never walk alone’ as well as some pre-game choreo.

But the game itself proved a typical derby encounter with hectic midfield action and too many misplaced passes.

Both sides had missed first half chances, Muller for Mainz and Russ for Frankfurt.
And then Rode had probably the best of opportunity of all in the second period, after a Caligiuri error, but Wetklo saved his effort.

So a disappointing game despite the atmosphere.

I warmed up afterwards with a Thai yellow curry and some wine.

29th April  Energie Cottbus 4 Kaiserslautern 2   2. Bundesliga  7,545 (700 away)

By far the best game of the five on this trip.

My pre-booked train from Mainz to Leipzig left very late but managed to make up enough time for me to make my planned connection to Cottbus.
So there was time for a wander around the centre, have an ice-cream, and note the bilingual signs and realise you’re not far from Poland.

The ground is an easy stroll along a riverbank and past the planetarium.

Kaiserslautern are in third and they brought a good number of fans placed in a terrace behind one goal.
The home fans supplied the choreo and provided decent support throughout.

Right from the beginning this game delivered action with Mohammadou Idrissou, in bright orange boots, the centre of early attention, soon getting a yellow card for arguing.
He would score an impressive header from a corner early in the second half.

But before that the home side, slightly against the run of play, had gone ahead when young Weiser brought down Rivic and Banovic converted the penalty.

Energie’s top scorer Ivorian Boubacar Sanogo scored their second from a right wing cross and he would also be involved in the third as sub. Fomitschow delivered at the far post.

This was hard on the visitors and they reduced the arrears with a penalty after Riedel was tripped.

But with the action continuing to the final minutes and Kaiserslautern pushing forward a Cottbus break resulted in a chip over the goalie and an easy goal for Sanogo.

An excellent match to finish this trip.

more pictures at  http://www.photobox.co.uk/album/1868112943