Earlier this season Ansgar Löcke wrote about his road trip to watch Hannover play in the DFB pokal. This time around he documented his excursion to Denmark to watch Hannover play to FC Copenhagen in the Europa League.
The whole idea of travelling to the match was already in my head when the draw was made. At that time I lived around 90 minutes away from Copenhagen. Together with friends I talked about renting a bus and making a short road trip to support the Northern German participant in the Europa League and my team away from home.
Things changed, however. The initial plan remained a draft, people backed out and I knew I would be busy settling in in Berlin. In addition, I also had bought tickets for the three group stage home matches, so I was sure to watch a certain amount of European action in Hannover. The idea of travelling to Copenhagen soon turned into a small thought in the back of my head.
Until… until my girlfriend came for a visit. We went to the match against Copenhagen together (she is Danish) and afterwards she began to make plans of possibly making the trip to Copenhagen. Tickets were still available and everything seemed to work. Only the travelling was a problem. It seemed like I wouldn’t be able to make it in time. We checked car, train, plane – but the 7pm kickoff was out of sight. Only one possibility was left: Skipping a class. A nightmare for a student. A 30-second chat and a quick e-mail later the doors were opened. It was possible. Tickets were booked, so was the train, and after a very informative lecture on Thursday morning at 8am I left Berlin – destination Copenhagen.
Once in the Danish capital, we had no idea where to go. It was dark and no stadium was in sight. Fortunately, if it’s a match day, no matter where you are, you will find your way. Follow the people wearing shirts and scarves. Simple. We arrived just in time for the teams to come out. The seats were directly in the FC Kopenhagen supporters section, so I was clever enough to hide my Hannover jersey under the jacket.
“Parken” in Kopenhagen is quite a special kind of stadium. First of all, you have open corners and quite steep stands. Plus, at the short ends you only have one tier of seats, above that are lounges. And the food counters are nearly 100% the like of your McDonalds, Subway, you name it. Order a Menu to take-away, some popcorn (seriously) and a soft drink or beer. Then take it to your seat and enjoy the match, like in a cinema.
Back to the game: The atmosphere was breath-taking. Around 28,000 fans were in total assembled that night, but the away supporters from Hannover took more than 1/3 of the seats. More than 10,000 away fans provided an incredible set-up. When the teams entered the pitch, 96 supporters started their choreography with green, white, and black banners plus a few flares. “FC Ko” fans responded with great chants, a lot of times taking English ones. “Who are ya?” and a slightly adapted “Barmy Army” were just a few of those. Plus they have a chant to the tune of Boney M. – “Rivers of Babylon” but there they used a Danish text. Most of the chants involve being the capital and the best side in the country, both are undeniably true. The chants of the away fans were also noticed, when certain chants were very loud or with a good choreography, Kopenhagen fans pointed to the opposition end and looked quite impressed with the volume of the opposing fans in their home stadium, the fortress “Parken”.
But back to the game: Both teams started calmly and aware of the fact that a simple mistake would be punished by the opposing side; something both teams had experienced the first time they met.
Hannover had Sergio Pinto back in their side and with him every positive and negative aspect he brings to the game: he tried several times to shoot from distance (giving a Kopenhagen defender a nosebleed at one attempt) and he did all he could (together with his crony Schmiedebach) to wind up opposition players with small, repetitive fouls and the odd, minor injury break.
The main battle in the first half, however, was the one between Pogatetz and N’Doye; the Hannover central defender and the Kopenhagen forward sometimes wrestled their way through the first half. N’Doye certainly knows how to use his body and if it wasn’t for some 50/50-decisions the referee made in Pogatetz’s favour, Kopenhagen could’ve had some great opportunities during the first half. That does not mean that there weren’t any. Several times the “FC Ko” strikers just shot wide and after Ron-Robert Zieler spilled a low cross he was very lucky that no onrushing forward could use the loose ball for a simple tap-in. Hannover created their best chance after Moa Abdellaoue followed a long ball, entered the box, and cut the ball back for Lars Stindl, who headed the ball over the cross bar. During the end of the first half, the fouls on the 96 side increased, so that the team and especially “friend of the crowds” Sergio Pinto was booed and whistled in the final minutes and off the pitch into the dressing room.
Coach Mirko Slomka had to take off the slightly injured Christian Pander out at half time and replaced him with Rausch. And “Kocka” Rausch certainly helped Hannover’s left flank come to life a little bit better and he shot just wide minutes after the break. But it was the home side that’d score first in this very intense game. A corner was only half-cleared and it was Dame N’Doye of all people to steer the ball through a crowd of players into the back of the net after 66 minutes. In front of the Kopenhagen fans. Everything went off. This was such an important goal for the Danish side to keep the hopes of progressing alive.
But as a too often used saying about football goes: You are most vulnerable when you just scored. And this was certainly the case in this match. Kopenhagen players seemed happy with this result and switched back a bit, allowing Hannover to go forward more easily. And only 4 minutes later Sofian Chahed crossed into the box. Abdellaoue and Rausch missed the ball only for Jan Schlaudraff to hit the ball first time to put it into the bottom right corner. All square. But unlike Kopenhagen, Hannover didn’t settle. It was clear they wanted more than just the draw. A few minutes later a shot from distance hit the cross bar. Only seconds after that chance Chahed released Lars Stindl with a long ball, who controlled the ball with his right foot on the edge of the box, with the same touch put it over the onrushing defender and onto his left foot, only to smash the ball into the top right corner. The away end seemed to explode. All the Hannover fans went wild. And I in the Kopenhagen stands had a few problems controlling myself, but thankfully just managed to do so.
Take a look at Stindl’s excellent goal.
The last 15 minutes were dominated by Kopenhagen trying to unlock the Hannover defense, the best chance a free kick from distance directly at the keeper. Hannover might be new to the European circus, but what they do very professionally is winding up opposition players with wasting time and small fouls. The last 10 minutes were full of those. Zieler and Pinto came close to a booking again, it was clear they weren’t here to become best mates with the “FC Ko” supporters. Two substitutions in added time and keeping the ball at the opponent’s corner flag were the tactical highlights of the final minutes. When the final whistle went, Hannover players knew they had taken an important step towards reaching the knock-out stages of the Europa League. Kopenhagen and Hannover thanked their fans respectively for their support. But the fans in blue and white were the first ones to leave the stadium. The supporters in red stayed a little bit to watch highlights and celebrate with the team. Kopenhagen fans were clearly frustrated, saying a draw would’ve been the better result – probably a fair assumption.
However, it was a great night for Hannover and their fans. The dream, that is the Europa League, continues. And a draw in Liege might be enough to secure the knock-out stages before the final match against Poltawa.