Both Hannover and Schalke won their respective second leg matches on Thursday to advance to the next round of the Europa League. Hannover made history by making the last 16 of a European competition for the first time in club history courtesy of a Mame Biram Diouf (21.) against Belgian side FC Brugge while Huntelaar’s hattrick (8., 106., 120.) secured an extra time win for Schalke against a stubborn Viktoria Plzen. Hannover will return to Belgium in the next round to take on Standard Liege who they drew and lost against in the group and Schalke face Dutch side Twente coached by former Wolfsburg coach Steve McClaren.
Hannover break their Belgian duck
Mirko Slomka’s side were unlucky not to go into their second leg with a bigger lead after some questionable refereeing decisions last week. On top of that, their only stumble in Europe this season came at the hands of a Belgian side in the group stage (a 2-0 loss against Standard Liege). Slomka was also without his suspended captain Cherundolo but star striker Abdellaoue returned to fitness to make the starting eleven. He continued with the midfield diamond that worked so well against Stuttgart over the weekend and hoped to make his 2-1 lead count.
Despite Hannover’s past difficulties in Belgium the pressure was on Brugge to get a result so they came out strong in the opening. They were particularly active on the right against Pander, who was so effective at the weekend against Stuttgart, but struggled against the busy Meunier. Zieler meanwhile was Hannover’s busiest player but thankfully the young goalkeeper was at his best and kept his side in the game despite being put on the back foot, making a particularly important save right before the break. Characteristic of Slomka’s Hannover, the visitors best chances came on the break and after Abdellaoue came close early, loan signing Diouf broke through after Stindl sent in a cross from the right on 21 minutes, setting him up for an easy finish after Brugge defender Hoefkens slipped. Hannover did well to cope with Brugge’s pressure and went into the break with a crucial lead.
That lead would prove crucial because it gave Hannover the confidence and composure to see out the game effectively in the second. In contrast to the more open chance laden first half, the second was more subdued and characteristic of Hannover’s progress as a team and professionalism in European competition. Akpala came close to the equalizer soon after the restart but Zieler was there again to deny him. It was as close as Brugge would come to scoring. Hannover actually had the better chances with Diouf coming close to a brace after the hour mark, again on the break, but sent his shot over the bar. Hannover may have drawn more games than they should in the Bundesliga but Slomka’s system and his players execution of it appear tailor-made for the Europa League. The question now, can they do what they failed to in the group stage and beat Standard Liege in the next round? We will all find out on March 8th and the 15th.
Huntelaar spares blushes for Schalke
Die Knappen needed two extra time goals to advance against the Czech champions after an underwhelming performance despite having a man advantage for much of the match. Stevens’s side weren’t at their best in the first leg either but were able to go into this game with a 1-1 aggregate score. After their emphatic 4-0 win at the weekend against Wolfsburg, Stevens only made one change, with captain Höwedes returning to the squad for Uchida. Schalke hoped that after several slow starts to matches this season this game would be different and keep them on track to progress.
As it were, Schalke did start brightly and put Plzen under pressure right away. The energetic Farfan and Draxler were doing well out wide, which has been Schalke’s big strengths under Stevens. It was also through one of their wide players that they got an early lead after Draxler collected a pass outside the box, released a shot and in typical poacher fashion, Huntelaar was in the right place for the rebound. In the early stages it looked very much as if Schalke would run away with the game but things didn’t go that smoothly from then on out. Whether it was overconfidence, their slow starter syndrome or Plzen’s persistence, it was the hosts who created the next best chance after Petrzela’s cross from the right found the head of Kolar but his attempt hit the post. Schalke were fortunate to go into the break with their lead after a continuously diminishing performance following their early goal.
Then Schalke were dealt a helping hand by Plzen forward Bakos, whose kick in the face of Papadopoulos earned him a red card. With a man advantage Schalke were now in the driving seat but despite their numerical superiority they couldn’t make it count. Höwedes, Ral and Huntelaar all had chances to extend their lead but were either not clinical enough or denied by the visitor’s resolute defending. Against all odds then the Czech side got the equalizer two minutes from time after Fuchs was caught sleeping and allowed Rajtoral an unchallenged shot from the right. Luckily for Schalke, the pressure was relieved in extra time when an injury to Prochazka and a lack of substitutes left them with a two man disadvantage. With Plzen forced to defend the clinical Huntelaar sealed the game and rounded off his fourth hattrick of the season. The Dutch striker has now scored 33 goals in 34 competitive games for Schalke, 10 of those coming in their 9 Europa League matches. If Schalke are to advance against Twente you can be sure Huntelaar will have had something to say in the matter.