Hannover started its 2012/2013 campaign on the right foot, at Dublin’s Richmond Park, facing St. Patrick’s Athletic in the third round first leg of Europa League qualifying. The 96ers outlasted the more game-fit Irish squad to win, 3-0, practically assuring their entry into the Europa League’s group stages with the second leg return match played in Hannover.
This marks the second consecutive season for the 96ers in European play. Last season, Mirko Slomka’s club qualified for the group stages of Europa League competition by defeating Sevilla FC, and defeated clubs such as Standard Liege, Club Brugge and FC Copenhagen in tournament action before being eliminated in the quarterfinal round by eventual Europa League 2011/2012 champions Atletico Madrid. St. Patrick’s Athletic, meanwhile, has earned European league play in five of the last six seasons.
Slomkla set out a strong starting lineup captained by right back Steve Cherundolo, entering his 13th season with the 96ers, the only professional squad the American international has played for. The 96ers took a very early lead on a fantastic goal by Leon Andreasen, as Hannover were rewarded for their patience with the injury plagued Dane, who has been limited to only 18 league matches for Hannover since January, 2009. Andreasen’s sixth minute blast flew just inside the upper left corner of the SPA goal to give Hannover a 1-0 advantage. He began training with the club last spring, and was offered a new contract, albeit at a lower wage, by Hannover based on the quality of his injury recovery displayed during training.
But while Hannover were certainly the higher-profile club with a better squad in this fixture, SPA never looked daunted against their German foes in front of a solid home crowd. Having already played two rounds of EL action and two July fixtures in League of Ireland competition, the Irish club looked better fit and more organized than the Hannoverians. Their confidence grew as the match wore on without the 96ers adding to the lead, and SPA had chances to equalize go wide of the post or saved by Ron-Robert Zieler in the first half. For Hannover, returnee Szabolcs Huszti was quite active during the first half, although his dive inside the penalty box following the slightest contact by a SPA defender fooled no one. The Hungarian, who played in over 80 league matches for Hannover between 2005-2009 before departing for Zenit St. Petersburg, was lucky not to be carded for simulation. Didier Ya Konan looked to add a second goal for Hannover with a few minutes remaining in the first half, but his shot went wide and the half ended with Hannover carrying a narrow one goal lead.
St. Patrick’s came out after intermission looking quite capable of equalizing, and an early corner kick and a free kick several minutes later caught Hannover looking a disorganized on set pieces. In the 55th minute, Huszti hustled to disrupt a dangerous SPA cross into the Hannover penalty area. On the other end, Konstantin Rausch, who substituted in for Huszti minutes later, found himself the recipient a perfect layoff from Sergio Pinto near the hour mark, but Rausch’s aim was untrue inside the penalty box as his shot rolled just wide of the Irish club’s left goalpost.
Hannover earned the insurance goal they needed in the 67th minute, as a low free kick from former Schalke defender Christian Pander eluded a diving Brendan Clarke in goal to double Hannover’s lead. While St. Patrick’s had played on a very even basis with Hannover throughout the match, the second goal took some of the wind out of their sails as Hannover began working some nice technical play down the flanks. But the Irish club still had some fight left, as Christy Fagan looked to score SPA’s first goal in the 75th minute. He briefly looked wide open on a break, but Hannover defender Karim Haggui showed his pace and skill by tracking down Fagan and riding him to the left of goal, from which Fagan launched a tight angle shot that just missed the far post.
Hannover striker Didier Ya Konan added the final score of the day in the 80th minute, skillfully placing his shot past Clarke from close range with Rausch having delivered into the box. Ya Konan, who was criticized by Hannover management last season for a perceived lack of fitness, started and played the entire 90 minutes. Manuel Schmeidebach and Moa Abdellaoue were given a run out late in the half by Slomka. Led by Cherundolo, the squad were all smiles as they greeted travelling Hannover supporters following a deserved win over the game St. Patrick’s side.
While Thursday’s effort by Hannover wasn’t picture perfect, it was a good result for Slomka and his club in their first competitive match of the season. Looking a bit rusty, especially in defending set pieces, Hannover showed its superiority in quality over a plucky St. Patrick’s squad as the game elapsed. Hannover were missing newcomer Felipe, out with a hamstring injury, along with Mame Biram Diouf, last winter’s acquisition from Manchester United who scored six goals in eight league matches. Diouf is still recovering from surgery.
Next up for the 96ers is the August 9 return leg in Hannover against St. Patrick’s that should be a lock after the result in Dublin. Two days later, Hannover host a full-strength Manchester United side in a friendly, and then begin DFB Pokal play with a first round fixture August 19 against FC Nöttingen.
Hannover Lineup: Zieler – Cherundolo, Haggui, Eggimann, Pander – Stindl, Andreasen (Schmeidebach) da Silva Pinto, Huszti (Rausch) – Schlaudraff (Abdellaoue), Ya Konan
Header image is from bz-berlin.de