September 23, 2017

Hertha BSC Faces Bröndby IF in Europa League Qualifier

Hertha BSC vs. Bröndby IF
Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn-Stadium
Thursday, July 28, 2016
20:15 CET
Live on YouTube (Editor’s Note: The legitimacy of this stream is not yet known. We will update this if it turns out to be a fake.)

The last time Pal Dardai and Alexander Zorniger matched wits along a Berlin touchline, Hertha BSC saddled VfB Stuttgart with their fourth-consecutive loss to start a season that would eventually end with Stuttgart relegated to the second division thanks to the league’s most-generous defense.

Zorniger’s reign with the club was cut short at just 15 matches.

When Zorniger returns to the German capital Thursday in the first leg of the third round of Europa League qualification play against Hertha Berlin, it will be under vastly different circumstances. Since taking over at traditional Danish power Bröndby IF, Zorniger has won six of six, scoring 22 goals and keeping four clean sheets through two match days in the Danish Superliga and two Europa League qualification rounds.

Despite the fact the Danes should have the advantage of arriving to Berlin’s Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn-Stadium in early-season shape, midfielder Fabian Lustenberger and his trainer both insist the squad is ready for full competition, even with the Bundesliga still a month away and the DFB Pokal more than three weeks from starting.

“We absolutely want to be in the group phase and will give everything to get it,” pledges the team captain. “Heavy legs cannot be a problem.”

“We will do everything we can to ensure the will and determination are there,” explains Dardai. “Physically (we are not) so fresh, but the head will be crucial.”

Dardai is unlikely to be referring to Gojko Kacar’s headed goal that provided the final goal in Hertha’s 3-1 second-leg win over Bröndby in their 2009-10 Europa League qualification tussle, especially since it was Dardai’s terrific strike earlier in the match that gave the Berliners the margin they needed to advance after losing the first leg in Denmark.

Even so, Zorniger seems to agree with his counterpart that mentality will play a significant role in the 2016 rematch. He’s hoping that the intensity of Bröndby’s second-round battle with Scottish side Hibernian FC will have provided his squad with the mettle needed to scrap for “every meter” to reach the group stage.

Despite the relatively short preparation for the players returning to Hertha from international duty this summer, Dardai says he will have his full squad available to him for selection. John Anthony Brooks had a star turn in the United States’ run to the semifinal round of Copa America, while the Czech-Slovak pair of Vladimir Darida and Peter Pekarik each were full-timers with their respective national teams at the European Championships this summer.

“All the guys are fit. Even those who were at tournaments,” said the Hungarian boss at Wednesday’s pre-match press conference. “They can play, according to performance diagnostics.”

In other fitness news, Hertha fans can celebrate the return to health of veteran goalkeeper Thomas Kraft, who played just once last season after a shoulder injury forced him to leave a September match against Wolfsburg early.

Between Kraft’s long-time standing as a quality keeper and Rune Jarstein’s solid performance after ascending to the top of the depth chart, Dardai is keeping the full-time gig for the coming season a competition between the two. For the two-legged competition with Bröndby, though, the coach plans to utilize his depth as part of his decision-making process for the Bundesliga season.

“We can’t yet discuss our ‘number one.’ Jarstein has an advantage through the last year,” says Dardai. “One will play tomorrow; the other in the return match. Both are very good goalkeepers.”

Zorniger will not be the only Bröndby face familiar to Bundesliga fans. Former SpVgg Greuther Fürth center back Benedikt Röcker has been a fixture for the Danes since the season began.

Mukhtar will likely have family & friends in attendance Thursday.

Much more familiar to the Berlin locals, though, will be German youth international Hany Mukhtar. The Berlin-born Mukhtar, currently on loan to Bröndby from SL Benfica, is a product of the Hertha BSC system and even has logged 18 appearances with the senior club in both 2. Bundesliga and the top flight.

Those who follow Germany’s youth squads may remember Mukhtar as having scored the game-winning goal for Germany in the final of the U19 European Championship against Portugal.

All 18,454 tickets for the match are sold, with 1,845 Bröndby supporters expected to fill the away-fans section of the stadium. The inclement weather that forced cancellation of final training sessions Wednesday is not predicted to repeat itself Thursday, leaving a relatively warm evening in Berlin to greet the competitive season in Germany.

 

 

 

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Randall Hauk is a freelance writer living in the United States while covering German football. He is currently the publisher of Planet Effzeh, an English-language site covering 1. FC Köln. He wrote about the German national team for the Telegraph as part of their World Cup Nation coverage.