Hamburger SV 1 Karlsruher SC 1. Late Iličević strike gives HSV hope

A late Ivo Iličević goal gave HSV a lifeline in their Relegation Playoff first-leg match against a feisty Karlsruhe side, who will have mixed feelings about the result because despite it being a good one it could have been much, much more.

Nerves, nerves, nerves

The match could not have started better for the visitors and it seemed scripted by HSV’s worst enemy. On four minutes, Rouwen Hennings received a ball from Dimitrij Nazarov and buried the ball to René Adler’s left-hand post, an exceptional strike which no doubt flattered the former St. Pauli striker. It was a nightmare start for HSV and this showed in how their play developed for the following 40 minutes. Nerves had already sunk in and their play was accelerated, erratic and ultimately inefficient. KSC were happy to sit back and welcome the home side’s pseudo-attacks, forcing them out wide and looking in control at all times.

The only trouble that the home side managed to create came from set pieces and they were all calmly dealt with by Dirk Orlishausen. At the other side of the pitch, Reinhard Yabo and Hennings were attempting to latch onto the long balls cleared by their defence, although it seemed a futile effort. Nevertheless, Bruno Labbadia’s men did not seem to capitalise on this obvious weakness and kept on with their erratic passing and petty fouling. Only Pierre-Michel Lasogga managed to put some thrill into the HSV fans when his low and hard left-footed shot went just wide of Orlishausen’s right-hand post. Despite competing against a team with eleven men behind the ball, HSV welcomed the half-time whistle.

A game of two halves

Today’s match was almost a match played in reverse. While the first half belonged more to what one would expect a second half to be, the actual second half was the opposite, with KSC now seeing more of the ball and attempting to attack without hoofing hopeful balls to their front men. The tie could have been over five minutes after the restart, when a low cross from the left by Philipp Max was met inside the area by Manuel Torres, but the Spaniard could only manage to hit the bar on the half turn. Seconds later, the ball fell on the left flank to Nazarov, whose audacious 30-yard strike fooled Adler and also smacked against the crossbar, much to the disbelief of every soul inside the Imtech Arena.

Against all odds, this did not dishearten HSV and they started to combine more in narrow spaces outside KSC’s box, but still without creating real danger for Orlishausen to deal with. Yabo could have put his side ahead had he chosen to go down with the clear and clumsy trip that Johann Djourou inflicted upon him inside the area but instead he chose to stay on his feet and curl his shot into the stands. KSC’s players could not believe he hadn’t gone down and made it known clearly to their teammate but it was not a case of cheating but rather one of pragmatism.

KSC seemed to pay for this because minutes later HSV were back on level terms. A quick one-two between Ivo Iličević and substitute Dennis Diekmeier ended with the Croatian inside the box and firing past Orlishausen to make it 1-1 on 73 minutes. The goal was a bitter blow for KSC and it seemed to exacerbate their tiredness in the latter stages of the match. Manager Markus Kauczinski made his first substitution of the night by bringing on Gaetan Krebs for Yabo, which freshened up their tiring central midfield and put a dent into HSV’s momentum.

Unused quality

The home fans and players were visibly fired up but could not turn their enthusiasm into results on the pitch, as KSC once again settled into their positions and stopped their opponent’s attacks with relative ease. Man for man, HSV have a better squad than their opponent’s tonight but the quality never came to the fore. Labbadia’s acknowledged this superiority by bringing on Diekmeier on for Heiko Westermann in order to have more depth in attack on the right wing and find spaces behind left-wing Max, but the substitute did little else but assist on the goal.


We must not be written off – Bruno Labbadia

The biggest letdown of the night, however, was Lewis Holtby. Arguably the best player on the pitch on paper, the former Schalke man committed many errors in possession and without it that almost cost his side dear. At no point did he become the leader and playmaker that his side needed and it was rather surprising that Labbadia allowed him to stay on the field for a full 90 minutes with Rafael van der Vaart on the bench. Granted, van der Vaart is far from his best version but seeing the alternative on the pitch today, one cannot help but feel that a straight swap was at least worth a shot.

HSV’s central-midfield duo of Gojko Kačar and Marcelo Diaz did not have any kind of tactical discipline or, in the case of the former, any discipline whatsoever. The Serbian was dispossessed many a time and was lucky not to receive more than just the one yellow card after his overly physical display and constant complaining to referee Deniz Aytekin. Diaz’s long-range efforts vaguely troubled Orlishausen and perhaps too impulsive, when a pass seemed the better option.

All to play for

Despite HSV’s poor display, all is still to play for next Monday at the Wildparkstadion. Despite KSC’s away goal, if Labbadia’s men step up their game and make their superior quality count, an away victory is not hard to imagine. Labbadia mentioned at the end of the match that they have “not given up” and that they should “not be written off”, but it is quite clear that they must try something different or they might not have the luck to come back if KSC manage to get a goal before them. His counterpart Kauczinski was happy with the performance but “disappointed with the missed chances”, although he did admit that the away goal gave them a great chance of getting into the Bundesliga.

All in all, these are two very different teams with very different styles of play. One has enough quality to survive in the Bundesliga and even push further but their poor attitude and nervy behaviour acts as a handicap; the other, a team that is all about spirit and lacking in quality in comparison to their opponent but who instead play with plenty of heart and who can match them during certain phases of the match.

Last year, HSV escaped jail with their playoff victory against Greuther Fürth but it’s looking likely that their luck may be running out, and the clock that is ticking inside the Imtech Arena may have to be reset come Monday evening.


Header courtesy of Getty Images

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Aleix Gwilliam

Is a 27-year-old living in Barcelona who gets more pleasure from watching German lower-league football than from going to watch his hometown team at the Camp Nou every other week. Passionate about European football, its history and culture, you can follow him on Twitter at @AleixGwilliam

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