Wednesday, December 17, 2014

France December 2014

Four games in the South of France including seeing OM at Monaco.

12th December 2014   Marseille Consolat 1 Epinal 1   National  c. 200

A chilly night at the very basic Stade La Martine in the Marseille suburb of Saint Antoine.
The stadium featured a mixing desk and sound system next to the concrete seating.

The bumpy pitch wouldn’t have helped the overall quality and would partly explain the many misplaced passes.

Hence there was not much significant first half action.
Until, that is, the visitors from the North East took the lead late in the half following a corner.

Striker Benkajjane scoring from a parry by the home goalie.

However the second period did warm us up a bit with much more incident not least a red card, after an altercation, for the Epinal goalscorer.
With Consolat pressing for most of the half they did eventually get parity against the ten men when defender Nicodeme headed in at the near post.

Despite their efforts the home side (which has risen quickly through the amateur ranks to this third level) were unable to add another.

So both sides remained near the foot of the table.

Afterwards I stopped at a bar to see Ronaldo score a couple more goals for Real before getting the train back to St Charles station.

13th December  Montpellier 3 Lens 3  Ligue 1  9,784 (c. 120 away fans)

Montpellier currently play at the Altrad Stadium though they expect to return to their main home ,the Mosson, in January.
That stadium was flooded and presumably they are still endeavouring to restore the pitch to a reasonable condition.

Not that the pitch at the Altrad was great.
The combination of rugby and rain would have taken its toll.

However the players adjusted well providing plenty of entertainment.

The goals went in from the start with the home team going two up within fifteen minutes through Sanson and Barrios.
But Lens replied fairly quickly when Valdivia shot in left footed to reduce the deficit.

A fine near post header by Guillaume got the visitors back level and it was 2-2 at the break.

More goals were added in the second half in a game where the defences struggled.

Mounier converted at the far post following a right wing cross but Lens ensured the points would be shared when substitute Touzghar pounced on a rebound with ten minutes remaining.

So lots of action on a moderately cool, dry evening.

Afterwards I walked to the tram and was back in the centre of Montpellier before 11pm.
Where, on this Saturday night, the Place de la Comedie was alive with bustling crowds around the winter market stalls.

Many indulging in significant amounts of refreshment.

14th December  Nice 0 St Etienne 0   Ligue 1  18,493 (no away)

The next morning the revellers were still in evidence around the streets and especially in the station.
Unfortunately my stay there, having got up at 5.40 am, was prolonged because of a long delay to my Marseille-bound train.

Which meant I missed the connection for NIce meaning a much later arrival and hence a taxi to the stadium was needed to get there in a timely fashion.

The new Nice ground comprises three tiers, the top one being quite small.

In the match itself the main incident was the clash between Diomande and Eduardo that resulted in both being dismissed.

Playing as a striker Alassane Plea probably had the best chance for the home side but he was out-muscled and the opportunity disappeared.
Talking of strikers ex-Sporting front man Ricky van Wolfswinkel was in the St Etienne side and he, typically, headed for the penalty box at every opportunity while supplying a range of gestures to his teammates.

So, despite some Nice corners later on, a not totally unusual outcome.

What we did see though was some good entertainment by the ultras with flares, flags and songs.

I took the bus back to the Promenade des Anglais from where this ‘Anglais’ made his way to his hotel near the station before having a snack prior to game 2.

14th December  Monaco 1 Ol. Marseille   Ligue 1   12,648 (c. 2,500 away)

It was easy enough to get the train to the Principality for this 9pm kick-off.  
Though getting back by public transport is more problematic - in our case a taxi proved the only realistic option..

The Stade Louis II is certainly unique and it has fascinating architecture but it does need some updating, not least in the catering department.

With AS Monaco celebrating 90 years of existence there was a parade of ex-players (L. Thuram included) which was very well received.
As was some of the other razzamatazz - dancers and t-shirt ladies included.

League leaders Marseille had plenty of support, mostly at one end, but they would be
disappointed with the result.

For a neutral this game had much more action than the earlier stalemate.
With OM going close with headers, including from Gignac, while Monaco clipped the bar in the first half.
Ferreira Carrasco also shot just past the post and Moutinho was prominent, particularly in the second period.

It was in the second half that the home side scored the winner when a right wing cross was shot home by Silva, Steve Mandanda probably should have done better.
Marseille were unable to breach the Monaco defence and thus experienced a setback in their chase for the title (although Paris St Germain also lost)

The taxi choice worked out well as we, with a brisk exit, escaped any roadblocks and made it back to Nice before 11.30pm.

More pictures at

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Croatia & Italy November 2014

This time - a Croatian Europa League match followed by five games in Italy.

Rijeka wreck Standard.

27th November  Rijeka 2 Standard Liege 0  Europa League  8,950 (c. 200 away)

My route was via a flight to Trieste then about a two hour bus ride through Slovenia to Rijeka on the Adriatic coast.

And on the coast is where you will find the Kantrida stadium.

Despite the inclement weather some fans were enjoying a beer down on the beach.
Inside the mostly uncovered ground rainwear was the clothing of choice.

Rain yes,  but the locals had plenty to cheer as their team gave themselves a shot at making it through to the next phase of the Europa League.
Much might depend on the form of their talented striker Andrej Kramaric.

He showed enough quality (touch and tricks) to see why he is coveted by many bigger clubs.

Kramaric would create the second goal by being brought down in the area and he comfortably converted the resultant penalty.
Before that Brazilian Moises had headed the home side ahead from a corner.

That two nil first half lead never really looked like being threatened by a Standard side that made too many mistakes.

Afterwards I took the bus back to the centre and had some wine in my (convenient but very noisy)  ‘botel’ moored in the harbour.

Black Friday for SPAL.

28th November  SPAL 0 Pisa 1   Lega Pro   3,203 (c. 100 away)

My journey involved a return bus trip to Trieste then onward via Venezia to Bologna.
From where I took the short train ride to Ferrara.

Where the stadium is close to both the station and the centre.

Inside the local ultras supplied decent support from behind the goal.

The match itself was significant for some glaring errors - first home striker Fioretti scooped a good chance over the bar.
Then near the end we had a comical moment when Germinale attempted to convert a penalty, first stumbling, then restarting, before blasting the shot over the crossbar.

All of which was made worse because Pisa had taken the lead a few minutes earlier after Giyasi had crossed nicely for defender Rozzio to drive in the winner.

Prior to the game, in the historic centre, I partook of a negroni followed by an excellent local (wrapped) pizza washed down with a couple of glasses of red wine.

That quality was sadly not matched by the subsequent football.

Carpi diem, or not.

29 November  Carpi 0 Frosinone 0  Serie B   3,426 (c. 250 away)

The top two sides in Serie B met at the Stadio Sandro Carbussi in Carpi.

And perhaps predictably, even though they were also the top scorers in the league, the match ended in a goalless stalemate.

The first half saw few chances and overall the visitors looked more threatening with some reasonable long range efforts.
They would also clip the bar in the second period.

Carpi’s opportunities were further restricted by having midfielder Mbaye sent off. The Senegalese was especially distraught when shown the red card.

But the draw still left Carpi on top and Frosinone in second.

Incidentally the fairly small ground was unusual in comprising raised seating above a velodrome-style banking. Ultras from both sides did their thing.

Beforehand I had arranged for a taxi to take me across to Reggio Emilia for the second game of the day….

Two gentlemen of Sassuolo.

29th November  Sassuolo 2 Hellas Verona 1  Serie A  12,234 (c. 1,500 away)

Despite the traffic near the Mapei stadium I managed to make the 6pm kick-off for this mid-table Serie A encounter.

For which the highlight was the impressive away support from the Verona fans behind the left hand goal.
They would enjoy the opening goal from Moras but not so much later on as the home side gradually achieved dominance.

Sassuolo hit the bar towards the end of the first half then equalised soon after the break when Sansone shot in right footed.
It was left to Algerian Saphir Taider to deliver the knockout blow from close range via a left wing cross on 77 minutes.

But apart from that action there was little to cheer for either side.

Leaving the stadium I met up with some guys from Salerno who I joined on the walk back to the station.
From where we had a slow ride back, apparently due to delays caused by the dispersal of the fans back to Verona.

Genoa matri-culate.

30th November  Cesena 0 Genoa 3  Serie A  14,650 (c. 900 away)

This time an easier day with just the one game and, in theory, about an hour train ride from Bologna.

However in both cases the trains were late - not that it mattered too much either before or afterwards.

Cesena have a nicely sized mostly two tier ground that positions the respective ultras in the perfect place - behind the goals.
From where they waved their flags and lit some flares.

The visiting tifosi could be particularly satisfied with their favourites.

A early home error allowed Matri to break free and score the first before the striker backheeled neatly for Antonelli to shoot in from close range for number two.

Matri could even afford to miss a penalty and Bertolacci to hit the bar before Genoa went further ahead via a long drive by Burdisso that seem to go straight through Leali.

So pretty much done and dusted by half time.

Cesena did have a chance for some encouragement in the second period but Cascione smacked a penalty (at the same end as Matri’s failed effort) against the woodwork.

Generally the home side had stood off their opponents giving the forward trio of Matri, Argentinian Perotti and Spaniard Iago Falque room to do their work.

The outcome left Cesena near the foot of Serie A and Genoa well in with a chance of making the top four.

Some fifteen minutes after the finish I was at the station to catch the (only) slightly late train back to Bologna.

Yes the Italians trains are often late, particularly at weekends, but they do get many things right.
Not least having porticos so you can avoid most of the rain, while going out for a meal.
As I did near to Bologna Centrale.

Viva Zapata !

1st December  Sampdoria 1 Napoli 1   Serie A   21,033

As so to the final game on this trip, in Genoa.

It was raining hard before the game but thankfully dried out later.
The pitch seemed unaffected.

Samp have very good support, particularly from the Gradinata Sud.
And they help to make the Luigi Ferraris one of the most atmospheric of Italian stadiums.
Though on this wet night it looked somewhat different from when I saw World Cup matches in the summer of 1990.
In an entertaining game, certainly the best on this tour, both teams attacked and created chances.
Some fell to ex-Real Madrid striker Gonzalo Higuain but he failed to convert.

Stefano Okaka and Napoli’s Koulibaly had some great tussles.
Sadly for the French defender he would get dismissed following a mistimed tackle on the pacy Eder.

Eder had achieved the breakthrough after 57 minutes with a shot from the edge of the area.
And for some time it seemed likely Sampdoria would win and lift themselves above their local rivals, Genoa, into third.

But then Algerian Ghoulam went down the left wing and delivered a fine cross for sub. Zapata to head in the equaliser.
That preserved Napoli’s unbeaten run.

Parity was about the right outcome.

As well as seeing an enjoyable encounter we could also watch the antics of the respective coaches - Rafa Benitez often urgently re-positioning his men while Mihajlovic paced and sometimes pointed.

The next day a strolled through the historic port area before making an early bus ride to the nearby airport for the flight back to London.

more pictures at