Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Belgium, Ukraine and Germany September 2013

Four Belgian second division matches, a short trip to Kiev, then ending with three matches in Germany.

Vanderputte sinks Hoogstraten.

7th September 2013  Heist 2 Hoogstraten 1   1,100 (c. 100 away)  Belgian Second Division

Eurostar to Brussels then a stop in Antwerp before getting the train to Heist-op-den-Berg.

Incidentally Antwerp is now some station with the impressively preserved old facade and four levels of retail outlets.

This was the first win of the new season for Heist who scored two great goals after the visitors had gone ahead with a training ground move from a corner.

Striker Criel, who had a decent match, volleyed in a headed pass then Jeroen Vanderputte drove in a thirty yarder for the winner.

That was all in the entertaining, pacy first period - the second was more cautious with Heist settling for containment.

The stadium itself was characteristic of lower level Belgian grounds with various elements of terrace and seating.
It seems the pitch has been moved as there is some older terrace/stand set back from the new position.

As is often the case the whole feels homelier than (say) a Dutch ground and the match more watchable than (say) the equivalent French level.

In mild dry weather I strolled back through the centre to eventually get my return train to Antwerp.

Een enough for Eendracht.

8th September  ASV Geel 0 Eendracht Aalst 1      1,500 (150 away)

Another second division encounter, this time not as entertaining as the day before.

The match was won with another seemingly rehearsed move, a long corner and Semt was unmarked at the far post to head in.
That was on seven minutes.

And for most of the rest of the match Geel struggled to create many chances.
Aalst were happy to consolidate and wait for opportunities.
Two fell to substitute Greek striker Stavros Glouftsis but both were spurned.

But the single goal was enough and the visiting players celebrated at the end with the 150 or so away fans.

The ground in Geel, some fifteen minutes from the station, is a good size with covered terrace or seating on all four sides.

Having had a couple of spritzer sharpeners before the match in the main square, I was nourished by a burger before kick-off (no token needed)

I was back in Antwerp by 7pm for some wine and spring rolls.
The weather stayed warm and dry.

And then a diversion to Kiev, via Brussels.

England get a ‘result’.

10th September  Ukraine 0 England 0   69,890 (2,000 away)   Kiev.

Where England ‘got a result’ to stay top of World Cup qualification group H.

On a mild, dry night in the Ukrainian capital there were brief flurries of goalmouth action with England looking more dangerous in the first half and Ukraine applying more pressure in the second.
But never enough to achieve a breakthrough.

The most potent threat from the home side came from the left hand side but they lacked a Shevchenko to supply the finish.
The atmosphere was noisy at times but soon turned to Mexican waves.

As for England Lambert, a possible weakness and though isolated in the second period, showed some decent hold up and lay-off play.

But I sensed some midfield concerns, Wilshere’s likely to be solved by more play but for Gerrard and Lampard the end could be in sight.
Also despite only limited pressure goalie Joe Hart did seem somewhat shaky.

But all in all this supporter feels that our country will make it to Brazil, though it could be via the play-offs.

In a familiar city I indulged in some caviar pancakes, soup and washed it down with fine Belgian beer.

And talking of Belgium I had seen a number of their happy fans returning from Glasgow whilst in Brussels. They at least are almost certain of qualification.

Virtually Virton.

11th September Excelsior Virton 1 SV Roeselare 1   Belgian 2nd division  1,252 (30 away)

And so from Kiev, via Brussels, to Virton in the very south of Belgium.

The train journey, changing at Libramont, was mostly through undulating wooded country.
Often it was raining.

Virton was once a medieval walled city and it has a central core of bars and restaurants, mostly quiet on this very wet Wednesday night.
The stadium is a short walk from the centre.

And a decent crowd turned out to see Virton miss loads of chances.
They started quickly and the visitors (who had travelled by bus from the north and would go back afterwards  the same way) were soon under severe pressure.

But the home side failed to score and sure enough Roeselare did when a cross found Di Lallo who had space to control and convert.

After that it was a more even game before, on the hour, Yohan Dufour finally equalised with a similar goal.

So Virton would regret missing their opportunities and had to settle for a draw.
It could have been worse as sub. Sarrazyn missed a golden chance to win the game for Roeselare but blazed over in the final minute.

The ground itself is in the typical Belgian style (a recurrent theme) with a mix of terraces and stands and a four tier advertising space behind one goal.

Despite the inclement weather you could still appreciate the attractiveness of this part of Belgium (more so if you have enough time to explore)

‘Let the players have the ball’

12th September  Tubize 0 Antwerp 2  Belgian 2nd Division  850 (300 away)

Back to the Belgian capital and a hotel in the multi-cultural area near Place Anneessens.
Complete with a plethora of eateries.
Tubize also has plenty of restaurants - maybe more than required.

Which you could also say about the large seated stand behind the goal at the Stade Leburton.
It was unoccupied with the home fans, such as they were, sat in the ‘main stand’.
Opposite was a section of terrace for the 300 or so visiting fans.

The supporters from Antwerp kept up a decent level of noise including various English chants
(‘Let the players have the ball’ I think was one example)

After a period of stalemate Antwerp went ahead when, following a series of blocks, Calabro scored.

The clincher came from a penalty in the second half when sub. Guvenc got up to convert.
Tubize struggled to make chances and always seemed second best.

Thankfully dry the weather stayed reasonably mild.

I took the convenient 22.50 train back to Brussels.

Born to win.

13th September  Paderborn 1 Karlsruhe 0  2. Bundesliga  6,890 (300 away)

And on to Westphalia.

Where Paderborn, in their newish stadium, needed this victory to move up the table.

A single goal was enough after Elias Kachunga beat the offside trap, rounded the goalie and shot into an empty net.

Before that we had long periods of mostly uneventful football.

The second half had more incident including a decent free kick from Alibaz and some dangerous crosses by the right back Klingmann.
But Paderborn restricted the visitors with some containing passes towards the end.

The compact ground comprises the usual mix of (raised) terrace and seating.
It does have some slightly unusual thin metal supports.

Having walked from near the centre I took the free bus back to my hotel and opted for the healthy soup option and the (maybe less healthy ?) beer option.
From Paderborn, via Kassel and, eventually Nuremberg to the old Bavarian city of Augsburg.

Time Werner.

14th September Augsburg 2 Freiburg 1   28,453  (c. 1,000 away)

The new SGL- Arena is on the edge of the city and readily reachable by tram and a walk.

Inside you will find an atmospheric, mid-sized, single tier stadium (with thicker metal supports)
The local ultras, including the Legio Augusta, provided solid vocal support.

The atmosphere was no doubt enhanced by the relative success of the home side who gained what could be a very valuable win with a last minute left footed strike by sub. Tobias Werner.

Before that Freiburg had taken the lead catching the home side a little flat footed straight after the interval when Admir Mehmedi was put through to beat Manninger.

But eventually FCA fought back, despite missing some chances and finding it difficult to deliver the final pass.
Striker Halil Altintop levelled from a Ostrzolek cross and after that it seemed we were heading for a draw, until Werner intervened to send the fans home happy.

I took the tram back to the centre and negotiated the roadworks (removing the tram tracks) to find my hotel.
Chinese buffet was the post-game meal choice.

Party like its 1899.

15th September  Hoffenheim 2 Borussia Moenchengladbach 1  29,447 (c. 3,500 away)

The train was cancelled, I was having a bad time with Deutsche Bahn (unlike Jason Bourne I couldn’t check the timetable and expect the train to be there on time), but in the end there was enough time to check into my hotel in Heidelberg and still make the convenient train to the Sinsheim arena.
Hoffenheim certainly try to encourage support from the around the region and this includes free travel from Heidelberg.

And inside the Rhein-Neckar there is plenty of pre-game build-up.
Lots of visiting fans made the trip and they were positioned in the left hand corner.
The main home ultras were in the right terrace.

Borussia mostly played at a slow tempo with the emphasis on counter attacking.
It did not work.

Hoffenheim scored at a strategic time just before half time when the talented Elyounoussi crossed for Modeste to head in off a defender.
They added a second later when Volland cut back from the by-line to shoot in right footed, he had also gone close in the first period.

That left Borussia with plenty to do and although sub. Hrgota scored a fine goal on 75 minutes they were unable to get level.
Rafael threatened as did Kruse with crosses but Gladbach came up short and Hoffenheim had their second win of the season.

I returned home using BA from Frankfurt airport to London City.

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Friday, September 06, 2013

Russia, Austria and Poland August/September 2013

A visit to Siberia, the Urals, Vienna and then five matches in Poland.

Tom Thumb.

24th August Tom Tomsk  1 CSKA Moscow 2  Russian Premier      9,700 (300 away)

The Siberian city of Tomsk is now the furthest east visiting teams have to travel in the Russian Premier League, some four hours flying time from Moscow and three time zones away.

I made the overnight flight from the capital and arrived early on a quiet Saturday morning.
As I passed through the airport the CSKA 2nd team were booking in for their return to Moscow (having won 3-0)
Fortunately my hotel room was available after the bus ride from the airport.

After a rest there was time enough to look around, particularly along the main street (Lenina).
The man himself characteristically pointed the way forward, or not, from a central square.
Tomsk (motto ‘sui generis’) dropped down to the First division in 2011-12 and then subsequently won that league last season to get promoted to the top level again.
They have had financial issues in recent years.

Known as the ‘Siberians’ they were currently bottom of the Premier after losing their first five matches.

Some development is going on to update the Trud stadium which is typically open with just cover above the main stand and the press area.
Around 300 made the long journey from the capital and they were in a section to the left.

On the half hour Tomsk took the lead when a cross shot was parried away by Akinfeev and striker Portnyagin was there to convert.
The home side edged the first half and led at the interval.

But things changed after the break, first when Ivorian Doumbia headed in at the near post.
Then when his fellow striker Ahmed Musa followed up a Tosic effort to score the winner on 58 minutes.

Both Africans had been lively with Musa making the runs and Doumbia strong as a central striker.
CSKA as you would expect had more class.

The groans increased amongst the home fans following the promising first period as another defeat loomed.
With CSKA on top the home side had one last chance but a header went over and the crowd drifted away.

I finished with a mojito and a peach dessert in a pleasant central restaurant before negotiating the dark streets, past some of the famous wooden houses, to my hotel.

Tight perm.

26th August  Amkar Perm 2 Spartak Moscow 1  15,700  (700 away)

From Siberia to the Urals.

This was a fine win for Amkar.

The Zvedza stadium, again nearly all open seating, is a good thirty minute walk from the central area, passing the fun fare in Gorky park.

On a cool, but mostly dry night, the home side set about their visitors from the capital with some relish.
Playing fast and sometimes direct football Amkar deserved this win, scoring in the first half through one of their Bulgarians, Peev.

Although Spartak levelled soon after the break this was about their only threat in a very weak performance.
Amkar scored the decisive goal from a long ball that was driven home by Slovak Martin Jakubko.

Substitute Barrios added some presence to the Spartak attack but not enough to create any significant chances and the home side celebrated.
As usual Spartak had plenty of fans and they would make the long trip home without much to remember.
While the locals left chanting ‘Amkar’, ‘Amkar’.

Before the game (and to shelter from the rain) I had sampled some of the local beer, at about 90 pence per ‘pint’, in a traditional, very small, bar near the stadium.
The bar was like going back in time with barrels of wine on tap and a large selection of vodka - the latter taken at regular intervals by the locals.

Austria win (on aggregate)

27th August  Austria Vienna 2 Dinamo Zagreb 3 (Austria won 4-3 on aggregate)  Champions League    10,500 (500 away)

A long day flying from Perm to Moscow then on to Vienna for this Champions League play-off match.

The Generali (Austria) Arena is cosy but small comprising a couple of similar red & white roofed stands plus a two tier end stand for the local ultras.

The other end houses the away fans (although they were also in the side) plus a section of home fans.
Dinamo brought plenty though apparently most of the Bad Blue Boys were prevented from entering the country at the border.
Nevertheless those that made it brought flares, some thrown from outside the ground.
And it was not long before smoke enveloped part of the pitch.

Aside from the pyro this match was a good advert for the play-offs.

Austria, two up from the first leg, went further ahead when Mader headed in a cross.

So Dinamo had the proverbial mountain to climb and they set about the task with some purpose.
Scoring two well taken goals in the first half through Brozovic and Fernandes

They dominated possession as the home side conceded space.

The half ended 1-2 with the game well poised.

Austria showed less passivity in the second but still lost another goal as Montenegrin sub. Beciraj headed over the home goalie with twenty minutes remaining.

For a while it looked like an unlikely comeback victory until another substitute, Roman Kienast, just on, was there to convert from close range with eight minutes remaining.

It was a great aggregate win for the home side and much enjoyed by the local fans - generally starved of much recent European success.

I exited fairly quickly and went back to my regular hotel near the Prater via tram and metro.

The evening had been mild and dry in the south of Vienna.

Then a long rail journey from Vienna via Breclav and Katowice to Wroclaw, not helped by missing the connection in Katowice meaning I arrived two hours later than planned.
Add in getting on the wrong tram and you can understand I was a little strung out by the time  I made my hotel at around 9,30 pm following 14 hours on the ‘road’.

Great fans very poor team.

Slask Wroclaw 0 Sevilla 5  Europa League Play-off second leg (Sevilla lead 4-1 from the 1st game)   41,955 (zero away)

Slask now play at the Wroclaw stadium, to the west of the centre.
It was used during the Euros and presents a very impressive exterior.

But impressive would not be a word used to describe this performance by the home side.

I guess Slask will get the benefit of the doubt assuming there were no irregular ‘betting patterns’ but it did make this observer wonder about the possibility of a fix.

Rakitic began the rout with a long shot that the Slask goalie should have saved.
Colombian Carlos Bacca added another before half time.

And the pattern of misplaced passes continued as Sevilla strolled to victory helped by further catastrophic errors.

But though their team was poor the fans were superb in a near sellout crowd (partly due to the low pricing).

All square in the Arena.

30th August Lechia Gdansk 1 Gornik Zabrze  1  24,276 (zero away ?)

The then current top two played each other in the Polish Premier at the PGE Arena.

The stadium is another that was used at the Euros and again it has a fine exterior, all covered,  with similar sized sides and green themed seats.
Another big improvement on the old ground.

The first half ended goalless with Lechia having more chances though none were gilt-edged.
The general play had been fairly even..

After a period of stalemate Gornik went ahead on the hour when a delivery from the left found its way to Maczynski who had time to control and shoot in left footed.

Then we got some choreo with green & white flags and a large no.12 shirt from the ultras.

Gornik looked fairly solid in defence with Shevelyukhin heading away most crosses.
But with about ten minutes left the home got a penalty, presumably for handball in the area.

Pietrowski just about squeezed it past Steinbors in the away goal for the equaliser.

The noise stepped up a gear.
The fans, as at Wroclaw, had kept up the support throughout.

I took the first special train back to Gdansk centre and indulged in a beer in the Scandic before getting my return train to Tczew (nourished by some sushi from the station cafe)
There was time to see the later stages of the Super Cup between Bayern and Chelsea.

Legia go top.

31st August  Cracovia 0 Legia Warsaw 1  13,212  (c. 800 away)

Nine hours or so on the train from Tczew and you can be in Krakow.

Historic Krakow and Cracovia are definitely worth a visit.
The ground is a short stroll from the old town, through the always atmospheric central area..

It now comprises a cosy, covered stadium of smallish sides with a larger ‘main stand’

Legia’s fans, all dressed in white, were in a corner of the ground while the main local ultras did their thing at the other end.
Cracovia as a name lends itself to song and their anthem was a fine pre-game introduction.
(Podbeskidzie Bielsko-Biala for instance would be harder to blend into verse)

One goal turned out to be enough to take Legia to the top of the Polish league.
Bosnian Radovic scored it, neatly converting after a series of passes from the left.

Legia should have scored more with Ojamaa a constant threat down the left.
For a while it seemed they might regret not getting another goal but Cracovia couldn’t develop enough pressure.

At the end. with the rain having stopped, I strolled back through the lively centre,still  thronged with visitors on this Saturday night.

Slask not so slack.

1st September  Piast Gliwice 1 Slask Wroclaw 1  5,136 (c. 20 away)

Slask improved substantially after their Thursday night debacle helped by a number of personnel changes.

Piast play in the updated Stadion Miejski, a fifteen minute walk from the station.

It has echos of a moderate Dutch ground with steps up to the seating.
A few fans from Wroclaw made the trip.
The home ultras, a small but very lively group, were at the right hand end.

The weather was starting to get uncomfortable especially in the wind and away from the sunnier parts..

In the game both sides created chances and each goalie produced some good blocks.
The home side went ahead in the first period somewhat against the run of play when a direct move gave Wilczek the chance to break through the middle.

But it seemed inevitable that Slask would reply and they did when one of the returning players, Marco Paixao, was left with an easy task to level on 75 mins.

Ex-Fulham forward Collins John came on for the last minutes but didn’t affect the outcome.

I took a convenient train back to my base in Katowice and enjoyed a pizza and some red wine.

One is enough.

2nd September  Podbeskidzie Bielsko-Biala 1 Korona Kielce 0  2,700 (zero away)

As the weather turned cooler and showery I made the shortish trip to Bielsko-Biala.

After the somewhat grim image of parts of Silesia this city comes as a bit of surprise with its castle and attractive old centre.

The old town area has some trendy bars and restaurants.
In one I couldn’t help having a couple of weiss beers.

Some twenty minutes or so from the centre is the Miejski Stadium.

It is in the process of being redeveloped with a couple of two tiered end stands under construction.
Just two sides are currently in use with most fans seated in the main stand.

Despite being at the bottom of the league the home side had much the better of this game.
Winger Jagiella caused problems and they created far more than a very limited visiting side.

It looked like the lack of a good striker would limit Podbeskidzie but they eventually scored after a cross from the left was deflected in by Malarczyk.
Korona threatened little and ended by having a man sent off.

For me a short walk to the Lipnik station and I was back in rainy Katowice by 9.20pm.

And home the next day courtesy of Ryanair.

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