Friday, September 26, 2014

Turkey September 2014

Four matches in Turkey including a Europa League game in Istanbul.

18th September  Besiktas 1 Asteras Tripolis 1 Europa League   7,760  (c. 30 away)

This initial Group C game was played in the Ataturk Olympic stadium because of the redevelopment being done to Besiktas’ Inonu ground.

On a night of heavy rain in the capital a moderate crowd turned out but those that came provided typically noisy encouragement with the fans going through a full repertoire of chants.

This was my first visit to this stadium since Liverpool’s ‘Miracle of Istanbul’.
And there would no miracle for Besiktas who should probably have taken the three points after they led following a neat combination finished by Gokhan Tore.

Asteras mostly played on the break and it was only later in the second half that they established consistent pressure.
Eventually they found space down the left and equalised when Argentina sub. Parra volleyed in with a couple of minutes remaining.

For a team with very limited European experience it was a great point and it certainly dampened the locals enthusiasm.

I took the long metro ride back to Taksim while trying to dry out my clothes as best I could.

20th September Suat Altin Insaat Kayseri Erciyesspor 1 Akhisar Belediye Genclik VE Spor 2  c. 1,000 (c. 50 away)    Super League

Two of the longer names in the Turkish League met in the fine Kadir Has stadium - on the light-rail line from the centre of Kayseri.

The slightly surreal atmosphere was at least helped by the presence of a band and a drummer amongst the small group of ultras.

On 33 minutes the home side went ahead when a left wing cross was driven in by Ahmet Kilic.

But despite retaining the lead into the break it did seem likely that the visitors would reply and sure enough they got the equaliser when prolific Greek striker Theofanis Gekas headed in from a corner fairly soon after the restart.

Much later and in the final minute, with Erciyesspor pressing, Akhisar broke away and Gekas was there at the far post to slide in the winner.
The result would leave the visitors joint top of the Super League after three matches.

Back via the light rail I had a kebab and couple of glasses of red wine while watching Galatasaray on TV (and later W. Wonka in Turkish)

21st September  Sivasspor 0 Konyaspor 0  Super League c. 4,000 (small group of away)

I had taken the bus from Kayseri to Sivas and then stayed in the very comfortable Buruciye hotel in the heart of the city.
Where it was a short walk to the historic centre which includes some fine minarets, a mosque and other impressive buildings.

As in Kayseri there were few, if any, Western tourists walking around.

The 4 Eylul stadium is also not too far from the centre (it will be replaced by a new stadium further away)
It’s of the older style with open curved ends and covered side stands.

This match produced only half chances in the first period and though the home side stepped up the pace in the second half they failed to break down the visiting defence.

The nearest they came was when Moroccan Mehdi Taouil hit the bar with a cross/shot with about fifteen minutes left.

As we heard the call to prayer late in the game the home forwards failed to conjure up the necessary final ball to get the win.

On the way back to the hotel - perhaps inevitably - a kebab followed by some baklava.

22nd September  Istanbul Basaksehir 1 Trabzonspor 1  Super League c. 5,000 (c. 4,500 away)

Its tempting to underestimate the home side (who used to be called Istanbul BBSK) with their small number of fans and being overshadowed by the famous Istanbul giants.

But they play in a nice new stadium and they certainly held their own against Trabzonspor who brought a large group of fans (presumably nearly all based in the capital ?)

The visiting team also fielded Guinea star Kevin Constant as well as Algerians Medjani and Belkalem plus Abdul Waris of Ghana.

But in general Trabzonspor lacked fluency and became very frustrated.
Frustration that boiled over in the second half with a big bust up with the referee which also resulted in a couple of fans running onto the pitch to confront the officials.

So much for the new ID card system and the extra security.

The home side added to the massive away support’s misery when they took the lead through Bosnian Edin Visca’s right foot effort just after the break.

But just when it looked like it would be a loss for the Black Sea team they got a very late penalty and substitute Cardozo blasted it home to salvage a point.

I took the very convoluted route back from Basaksehir via bus, metro, walk and another metro to Taksim.

As an aside the Istanbul metro has been extended (the good news) but lacks the smooth connections (the bad news) of other systems.
Illustrated by the fact that it is normally a lot quicker to get the bus from Taksim Square to the airports.

And in another aside I should mention that the new ID scheme/ticketing system has clearly affected the number of fans at many matches.
Though as Turkey is not renowned for providing attendance figures its hard to tell by how much.
more pictures at

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Hungary, Switzerland and Andorra September 2014

An Hungarian second level game followed by three Euro 2016 qualification matches each involving teams from the home countries.

6th September  Vasas 2 Ajka 0  Hungarian NB2   2,000 (10 away ?)

Vasas are another one of those Hungarian clubs that have a fine history with league and Mitropa Cup wins plus a home victory against Real Madrid in a 1957-8 European Cup semi-final (which was played in the Nep stadium before 100,000)

Now they are going well in the Hungarian 2nd division and this was their fourth league win in a row.

They started quickly and scored though their captain Mohamed Remili following a one-two.
It then looked like they would overwhelm Ajka but it didn’t happen.
Some chances were missed and there was just one more goal - a straightforward header from a cross from the right.

Ajka mostly played to keep the score down but they did have a good opportunity to get one back when a forward was through on goal but his shot clipped the post.

The Stadion Rudolf Illovsky, in a northern area of Budapest, has been partly updated but still retains old, open, seats/terrace.

I enjoyed a breadstick and a coke before the match and an irish coffee later on.

Back near my hotel the hip-hop fans were going home after the Heroes Square festival had finished.

The next day I took in some culture at the Museum of Fine Arts including an impressively presented exhibition from Ancient Egypt.

7th September 2014  Hungary 1 Northern Ireland 2  20,672  (c. 1,000 away)

This Euro 2016 qualifier was played in the revamped Ferencvaros stadium (Groupama Arena)

A good number of Northern Irish fans made the trip and they would certainly have enjoyed this first away win for four years and their first victory against the Hungarians.

The game was significantly affected by the substitutions with ‘snake’ Priskin heading in from a corner for the opener before Aberdeen player McGinn converted a cross after excellent work by striker Kyle Lafferty.

That same combination would work in reverse for the winner as Lafferty bundled the ball in from close range in the final minutes.
It was a minor triumph for the Northern Irish who after equalising kept looking for a decider against a limited Hungarian team.

The home crowd went home unhappy after a creating plenty of noise earlier - the away fans probably headed for the bars.

8th September  Switzerland 0 England 2  Basel  35,500 (c.2,000 away)

I took a mid-morning Easyjet flight to Basel for another qualifier.

You could now say England have now made it to France 2016 after overcoming what would seem to be the hardest match in their qualifying group.

It could have been different if Gary Cahill had not cleared a Drmic effort off the line in the second half.
But he did and Joe Hart also made some blocks against a Swiss side whose star man Shaqiri had few chances to impress.

After a moderate first half England played better in the second benefiting from a Swiss error for Sterling to escape down the left and cross for Welbeck to convert.

The second goal in the final minute again resulted from a breakaway with sub. Lambert setting up Welbeck (the new Arsenal striker) to score his second.

So job done for England who are, inevitably, not quite as bad as some have portrayed but probably not at the top level either.

I strolled back to my hotel stopping for a weiss beer along the way.

9th September Andorra 1 Wales 2    c. 2,000 (c. 1,000 away)

My third Euro 2016 qualifier was in Andorra and again it resulted in an away win for a team from the home countries.
Albeit not without some concern as the Welsh, aiming for a first-ever appearance at the Euros, struggled to overcome the spirited efforts of the minnows of Andorra.

I’d taken a Swiss flight from Basel, eventually picked up a hire car, and driven through the undulating countryside, through numbers of tunnels, to the tiny Pyrenean principality.
Where I struggled to find the stadium (and somewhere to park)

It’s shoehorned into the centre amongst the shops and the mountains.

Again there was very good away support in one end and part of the side - the national anthem being particularly impressive.
Unlike most of the performance of the Welsh team.

It took their star man, Gareth Bale, to deliver the victory.
First with a neat header, then a ‘trademark’ free kick near the end did the job.

That prompted some ecstatic celebrations (but it was only Andorra !?) and a slight pitch incursion by the fans behind the goal.

Much earlier the home side had led with a penalty following a dubious decision for holding.

And they did more than just defend, getting forward a lot more than (say) San Marino.
They could possibly trouble others in the group, particularly at home on the artificial pitch.

Meanwhile Wales will have to step it up if they expect to qualify given the more difficult tests to come.

I climbed up the hill and drove back to my hotel in Manresa before driving on the next morning to Barcelona airport for my return flight to the UK.

more pictures at

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Czech Republic & Croatia August 2014

A couple of games in the Czech Republic followed by two more in Croatia including the 'Eternal Derby' in Split.

28th August  Sparta Prague 3 PEC Zwolle 1    Europa League   16,612 (c. 2,000 away)

On a mostly mild evening in the Czech capital Sparta overcame a well supported Dutch team helped by some poor defending by the visitors.

This was Zwolle’s first venture into Europe and they brought a large number of fans who were lively at first but much quieter later.

Zwolle missed a couple of early chances, including one by their Czech striker, Necid, after which Sparta took control.

Certainly the somewhat inept Dutch defence aided them, illustrated by the second goal from Dockal who was allowed to drive forward and shoot home unchallenged.

A third followed in the second half and the visitors were just left with a late penalty, albeit deserved, to show for their efforts.

Sparta’s ultras, kept up the noise and their team go on to the group stage of the Europa League.

A good crowd turned out and your correspondent enjoyed a beer and sausage before the game.

29th August Vysocina Jihlava 0 Dinamo Ceske Budejovice 0   Czech Premier   2,980 (c. 10 away)

At least the ultras kept amused as the fans from Budejovice did a conga and the home ones produced some banners and kept singing.

But the game itself had limited appeal with few chances and it looked like both teams had settled for a point well before the end.
Bosnian Haris Harba did produce one threat but that was the exception.

I’d taken the train from Prague to Havlickuv Brod where I stayed at the Hotel Slunce.
From there you can take the train to Jihlava although as this was a 8.15pm kickoff there is no public transport back - so a taxi was the only return option.

Again the weather stayed dry and not too cold.

30th August  Imotski 1 Inter Zapresic 4  Croatian 2.HNL   c. 300 (no away)

From Prague to Split via Smartwings (not too smart without online check-in as there were long queues at the airport)

Then I picked up a rental car at a very busy Split airport for the drive to Imotski.
From Split I took the scenic route arriving about 30 minutes before the 5.30pm start.

The ground is certainly unusual and definitely picturesque being overlooked by a ruined fortress and a cliff face at one end.
It offers plenty of vantage points for watching the match from above without having to pay.

But I did and those inside, and outside, watched a tough outcome for the home side who had gone behind after about fifteen minutes following a free kick.
They did equalise right after the break and for a while they seemed to have the initiative.

But a sending off (last man) and a successful penalty turned the game towards Inter.
Striker Nestorovski scored his breakaway second and with the home side’s defence crumbling a fourth was added near the end.

The (elderly) home ‘ultras’ complained consistently but to no avail.

Afterwards I drove to the nearby Hotel Venezia for a meal and some beer while admiring the views.

31st August  Hajduk Split 2 Dinamo Zagreb 3  Croatian Premier  20,000 (c. 500 away)

From Split to Trogir (a UNESCO heritage city), to be near the airport.

Then into Split over two hours before the start of the ‘Eternal Derby’.

The stadium (call it in the ‘Gothenburg Ullevi style’) was far from full although they did let in the visiting ‘Bad Blue Boys’ - who did their best to live up to their name.

There were some fine pre-game songs, some choreo and (I guess) the inevitable flag-burning.
The visiting ultras also managed to let off a couple of fireworks.

The game itself looked good for Hajduk, who needed a win to keep close to Dinamo at the top of the table, when they went ahead from an early Susic left footer.
They followed that with a Milic goal from a corner and all seemed good with the home support.

But gradually you sensed Dinamo would have a say and Algerian wide player Soudani proved a star as he supplied two crosses for Cop to convert.

As Hajduk ran out of steam Dinamo applied the coup de grace in the final minutes of added time with Soudani again on the left to deliver for Chilean sub. Henriquez to head in the winner, greeted as was their other goals, in silence.

Cue the home exodus - and I joined them on the road back to my hotel.

The next day I spent some time in the old town of Trogir with various other tourists (from driving around you soon notice visitors from countries such as:-  the Netherlands, Germany, Russia, Slovenia and Italy).
Unfortunately the inclement rainy weather tended to preclude a long stay.

more pictures at