Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Poland & Germany March 2016

A game in Poland plus three in Germany including the England match in Berlin.

25th March 2016  Miedz Legnica 1 GKS Katowice 1   1.Liga   1,944 (c. 150 away)

Flight to Wroclaw then about an hour on the train to Legnica.

Where it was rainy and fairly cool but not as cold as it might be in Poland.

This was a match that took a long time to get going.

We had a steady pace throughout with the only real first half action occurring near the end when first GKS threatened then the home side, somewhat out of the blue, delivered a cross that reached Labukas for an easy finish for 1-0.

The second half had more significant threats on goal with both teams missing decent chances.
It seemed the higher place GKS would get an equaliser and they did, on 80 minutes, when Wolkowicz shot in from the edge of the area.

Legnica did have a great chance for a late winner but the header went wide.

But a draw was about right.

The visiting fans, monitored by the presence of a dozen police vans, provided impressive support with chants and songs.
They also appeared in yellow colours and, later, bare chests.

Such things you do when you’re a Polish ultra.

26th March  Germany 2 England 3  Berlin   71,413 (c. 5,000 away)

From Wroclaw by train then bus-replacement to Berlin.   
Where I settled into an hotel in the Charlottenburg area before taking the S-bahn out to the Olympiastadion for this prestigious friendly.

So after this -  England will win the Euros ?

It was certainly a spirited performance by the three Lions highlighted by the new ‘golden generation’ of Alli, Kane, Dier, Vardy and co.

But of course retrieving a two goal deficit in a friendly is one thing but doing it in a competitive match is something else.

And there are provisos - not least in defence.

Germany certainly had the upper hand in the first half.

They had more possession and perhaps should have had the lead when a Mario Gomez effort was ruled out for offside.
But later Toni Kroos shot in left footed past a possibly unsighted, and injured, Jack Butland to make it 1-0 at the break.

Into the second and Besiktas striker Mario Gomez neatly headed a second and it looked like a big setback for our boys.

But Harry Kane turned and superbly drove in across Neuer and we were back in it.

On came Jamie Vardy, a revelation in the Premier League for Leicester, and he scored a typically fine near post goal to level it up.

With Dele Alli prominent yet another Tottenham star, Eric Dier, popped up in added time to head in the winner.

That sent our fans delirious and the songs were boomed out.

Certainly it was a fine outcome and you can see the talent coming through.
We just need to do the same in a competitive game - this was a test but not as taxing as it will be in June in France.

The doubts are in defence and it is usually the best rearguard that wins tournaments.

But the new golden boys might get us closer than in the recent past.

Afterwards we were marched back towards the Pichelsberg S-bahn for the journey back towards the centre.
I had a nightcap before a short sleep.

27th March  Freiburg II 5 Spielberg 0  Regionalliga  300 (50 away)

After about 4 hours rest (less because of the clocks changing) I was in Hauptbahnhof in good time for the 6.31am ICE train for Freiburg.

This fourth level match was low on quality and probably well below the English, League 2, equivalent.
The even first half was lit up by a fine left foot effort from Florian Kath with about five minutes remaining of the first period.

The same man added another from close range at the beginning of the second half.

And that gave the ‘reserves’ more confidence and three more goals soon followed.
Often aided by the visitor’s incompetence.

Striker Amir Fahlen got two of them redeeming himself for declining an excellent first half opportunity.
Spielberg disintegrated and never looked like getting anything.

The Moslestadion comprising a raised stand and some old terracing used to be the home of Freiburger FC, one of the founding clubs of the DFB.
They were German champions in 1907 but declined and were eventually overtaken by SC Freiburg, who are now the leading team in the city.

28th March  SV Wiesbaden 1 Sp Seligenstadt 1  Oberliga Hessen   c. 50

After a night out in the pleasant city of Freiburg I stopped off in Wiesbaden to see this fifth level encounter at the old Helmut Schon Sportpark.

The ground is another relic from the distant past with track, single stand and old, curved, terrace.

A small crowd watched what was a game of moderate quality.

The main action was from set plays with the visitors scoring from a penalty in the first period and SV equalising from a free kick later in the second half.
The leveller made its way through the wall and past a nonplussed away goalie.

Apparently SV are in financial trouble and may well drop down a few levels.

Soaked by a severe rain shower on the walk back to the station I had a fairly uncomfortable ride on to Frankfurt airport followed by a long delay (high winds at Heathrow) for the return to London.

But at least I could reflect on future glory for our England team (?)

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Turkey March 2016

Four games in Turkey including see Fenerbahce, Besiktas and the new stadium in Antalya.

Topal top.

10th March  Fenerbahce 1 Sporting Braga 0  Europa League  40,197  (c. 30 away)

I arrived on this Thursday afternoon and took the Havas bus to Taksim.

With its fragmented metro and tram system plus clogged roads Istanbul usually presents a challenge to moving around.
There isn’t really a perfect hotel location, and so Taksim, with its restaurants, is usually as good as any.

For this well attended Europa League first leg game I took the metro via Yenikapi to Ayrilik Cesmesi then walked the rest.
I also ended up walking around the stadium a few times due to Passolig issues.

That meant I missed the early part of the match - though probably not too much action.  
(Except the choreo)
Because it was a cautious encounter with few serious threats on goal.

In a way 0-0 would have been not too bad for either side, no away goal against the home side and a draw to take back for the visitors.
However that situation did change on 82 minutes when Mehmet Topal broke through the centre and shot into the corner for a fine winner.

Slightly earlier Josue had tested Volkan Demirel in the home goal and that was the nearest Braga came.
Behind the goal the fans roared their delight at the Fener winner and they can have decent expectations that their side can progress.
Especially if it becomes another very tight encounter.

Up front for the home side Robin van Persie did what he does, the occasional left foot strike but with few real chances.

I trekked back via the metro to Taksim and watched the latter part of Liverpool v Man Utd while being engulfed by (hookah pipe) smoke.

Five star.

11th March  Istanbulspor 5 Bayrampasa 0  2.Liga  c. 350 (c. 50 away)

This third tier match was played at 2-30pm on Friday afternoon in the Istanbul suburbs out near Ataturk airport.
Both sets of fans brought drums and instruments to provide a constant background of noise.

It was not Carnegie Hall quality but neither was the match.

But it did have some early controversy when Demerci broke through the away defence and shot past a static goalie on just 2 minutes. It all happened with a home player lying injured and brought a storm of protest from the Bayrampasa players.

Not for the first time such a situation has caused problems.
Eventually it calmed down and we had a period of little goalmouth action before tall striker Kusey slide in number two just before the interval.

Despite having more possession the visitors failed to create much and never produced a telling final ball.
It got worse for them after the break as Istanbulspor ran in three more goals, including one in the 61.5th minute from number 61.

The result meant the home side continue to challenge for promotion.

It took about an hour or so to get back to my hotel.

Afterwards I enjoyed some shashlik and red wine.

Besiktas best.

12th March  Rizespor 1 Besiktas 2  Super League   c. 11,000 (c. 500 away)

Rize is near the Black Sea and it is reachable via Trabzon and, in my case, Havas bus.

The weather was cooler than Istanbul, especially later in the evening.
But it did stay dry though.

The relatively new Rizespor stadium is a few miles/km out to the east - I walked then took a dolmus to get there.
Its a neat medium sized single tier ground with away sections to the left hand end/side.
As you might expect Besiktas brought a lively group of fans.

And the team from Istanbul delivered what was in the end a fairly comfortable three points.

But it might have been different if Deniz Kadah had taken his two golden chances.

Besiktas edged ahead on 14 minutes when Sosa neatly chipped a free kick over the wall.

Then a couple of minutes later we had a penalty awarded to the home side. Initially  the referee would deny it but, and it seemed the officials had disagreed,  eventually it was signalled as a spotkick.
Sadly for the home fans Kadah’s shot was well saved.

His opportunity for redemption came some minutes later when a cross found him unmarked but his header hit the bar.

Besiktas took advantage when a combination move delivered Kerim Frei with an easy finish for 0-2.

That was the half time score.

And the team from Istanbul continued to control midfield with Sosa, Sahan and Frei prominent.
They often set up Mario Gomez (on loan from Fiorentina) but the German either shot wide or had his efforts blocked by Charles Itandje in the home goal.

It never looked like Rizespor would get back into it but they did get a late consolation when a high ball reached Teddy Chevalier and he drove past Zengin.
But it was too little too late.

The home fans drifted away and the Besiktas ultras bounced up and down.
Their team would overtake Fenerbahce, and be top at least for a while.

My plan after Rize was to fly to Antalya but the weather (fog) intervened and I remained in Trabzon, courtesy of Turkish Airlines, and travelled on the Monday.

Et Too, Samuel.

14th March Antalyaspor 3 Bursaspor 0  Super League  c. 15,000 (c. 300 away)

Antalya have a fine new stadium out towards the Konyaalti beach area.
There is a convenient shopping nearby where your correspondent could relax in Starbucks.

Unlike many of the new builds I felt this stadium had something extra with its two tiered sides and attractive 3 ‘box levels’ behind each goal. The roof and external image are also well presented.
Inside the audio system is at an excruciating decibel level - the dial was turned up to eleven I think.

And the noisy ultras, situated at either end, combined well with other parts of the ground. A group of away fans were ensconced in the lower right corner.

The game itself featured ageing star Cameroon Samuel Eto’o up front for Antalyaspor.
He may be 35 years old but he still caused Bursa problems with his intelligent play.

The first half featured few chances but some good work from Jean Makoun in midfield for the home side and the occasional threat from Pablo Batalla for the visitors.
Generally Antalya offered more and they began the second period on the front foot.

On 49 a Makoun shot was deflected wide and the subsequent corner reached defender de Oliveira who volleyed in left footed for 1-0.

The game immediately stepped up a gear.

And then entered our hero - firstly deciding not to shoot when seemingly clear Eto’o was on hand to divert in a corner for number 2.

The higher ranked Bursaspor then had a penalty appeal denied though it did look soft anyway.
And the nearest they came to scoring was when an effort clipped the post late on.
Otherwise it was a moderate performance by the visitors.

The clincher came on 88 minutes with a breakaway chance that reached Eto’o who set substitute striker Sismanoglu through only for him to be brought down in the area.
Red for the Bursa defender and up steps Samuel - his shot is saved but he dispatches the rebound.
Fans salute our man and he, to some extent, repays that presumably large wage bill.

So a useful three points for Antalyaspor.

I strolled back towards the beach and had a nightcap before the flight back, via Istanbul, to London the following day.

Friday, March 04, 2016

Spain February 2016

3 games in Spain including a visit to Eibar and Sporting Gijon.

This was a trip by car starting and finishing in Bilbao characterised by persistent rain and moderate temperatures but with some interesting football.

Big up Bigas.

26th February  Eibar 0 Las Palmas 1  Primera League   5,112

Eibar, some 50km from Bilbao, has been put the map by the exploits of its football team as they climbed to the top league in Spain.
Reprieved from relegation last season they were at the dizzy heights of 7th prior to this match.

And there was a definite feeling pride about their club in this Basque town with plenty of flags hanging from the apartments and a buzz to the local bars.
Plus a cosy atmosphere at the compact stadium.

However on the pitch it was not a great night for the home side.

After the initial sparring it became clear that Ghanaian Wakaso would cause problems for Eibar down the left, and in particular full back Capa who ended being booked and probably with ‘twisted blood’.
Wakaso’s crosses and shots, especially in the first period, often set up chances.

Eventually the Las Palmas threats would result in the winner, at a strategic moment just before half time, when Bigas headed home unchallenged from a corner.

The lead was deserved since Eibar had created few decent chances.

The second half was mostly controlled by the home side but their most likely way back was via two penalty claims, the second of which seemed very plausible.
But they were both denied much the crowds disgust.

So the visitors from the Canaries came away with a useful three points to elevate them well clear of the demotion places.

I stayed locally before journeying along the coast via Bilbao and Santander to Gijon.

Ascent of Asensio.

27th February  Sporting Gijon 2 Espanyol 4  Primera League  22,555 (c. 50 away)

Sporting certainly have a contrasting ground to Eibar it being an historic three-tiered stadium, resplendent in red & white, with a capacity of 30,000.
And it can generate some noise, in this case often aimed at the referee.
Who presumably had some ‘previous’ according the home fans.

The game itself was eminently watchable with some standout performances and featuring at least one future star.
It was no doubt especially enjoyable for the neutrals present, including your correspondent, and the small group of away fans to the left middle of one end.

The first serious action signalled what was to follow as Burgui eluded two defenders and tested Cuellar in the home goal.
Soon after home striker Carlos Castro broke away and his shot clipped the bar.

The opener then came from a cross pushed out by the Espanyol goalie that Castro drove back in.

But Espanyol applied pressure and Burgui set off on another dribble, across the Sporting back line, before shooting home right footed for a fine equaliser.

The teams went in level at 1-1.

The very lively second half commenced with a couple of errors, through lost possession, that resulted in two quick goals for the visitors.
Firstly a far post cross found Gerard Moreno then the same man set off on a run that culminated in a nicely directed effort past Cuellar for 1-3.

Groans from the home crowd.

But on 62 minutes Carlos Castro got his second via a fairly straightforward header and for a while it seemed Sporting would retrieve the situation.
They came agonisingly close when a Sanabria shot hit the bar from close in and a few minutes later another effort clipped the same bar.

Then we had the moment that confirmed the presence of a future star as Marco Asensio skipped past two defenders along the left wing and his intended cross was diverted in by Luis Hernandez for an o.g.
Asensio, a left footer playing mostly on the right but with licence to roam, is clearly a talent.
He is aother medium-sized midfielder in the traditional Spanish mould.

Curiously Sporting’s possible future star, Alen Halilovic, who came on as a sub. also wears no.25. And he is also a pacy, left footer playing on the right (but with longer hair)

Time will tell how their careers develop but certainly two names to watch.

Meanwhile the game ended badly for Sporting with Nacho Cases being dismissed for an assault on the elusive Asensio.
Espanyol then played out the final minutes by keeping possession.
They should certainly avoid relegation while Sporting might have more of a problem.

I travelled from Gijon back via the same route then onto the edge of the Basque country and to Miranda de Ebro.

Nano Nano.

28th February  Mirandes 1 Tenerife 2  Segunda division  3,347 (c. 20 away)

The town is a mix of industry, partly rundown areas and some trendy looking bars/restaurants in the centre.

Nearby is the cosy Anduva stadium.

Mirandes have had a promising season having reached the quarter finals of the Copa del Rey and also challenging for a playoff position.

But on this early Sunday evening they came up short against a Tenerife side looking solid at the back and offering plenty going forward.
After some initial home possession a long ball reached Nano and with the home goalie misjudging his pace he nicely guided the ball home for the opener, that was after just 7 minutes.

Though Mirandes had more of the ball there always looked to be a chance Tenerife would be dangerous when attacking.
The home side had the ball but couldn’t create much in the final third.

However they did finally go close at the end of the first half, but Dani produced a good block.

The Mirandes coach then changed the forward line after the interval but it was the visitors who went further ahead when a superb lob from Suso set Nano clear and he rounded Raul to run in an excellent second goal.

As expected the home side applied more pressure and they would get one back when a penalty was awarded for a push in the area and Eguaras dispatched it easily.
But it would not be enough although goalie Raul did venture up for the final corner, all to no avail.

So Tenerife would ease their relegation worries and the home side would have work to do to make the playoffs.

So for me three matches and three away victories.

I stayed locally and watched Barca beat Sevilla whilst having dinner before delivering the hire car back to Bilbao airport the next morning.