With three Belgian clubs representing the league in Europe’s often maligned competition, we’re going to break from tradition and celebrate it like no tomorrow. Club Brugge made it out of a tricky group, no thanks to a stunning four goal comeback in Maribor within 15 minutes. Tim Woods gives the lowdown on Club Brugge’s opponents in the Round of 32, Bundesliga club, Hannover 96
Last season, Hannover 96 spent a lot of time sat proudly in third place, with genuine hopes of qualifying for the Champions League and ousting Bayern Munich. Order was restored in the final few games, to everyone’s relief: Bayern’s naturally, but also fans of Germany’s other top clubs who were more worried about their UEFA ranking than any fairy tales (Hannover crashing out in the qualifiers would not have helped their ranking coefficient). And indeed to Hannover’s; the Europa League was plenty for their fans to enjoy after last season’s excitement.
And in this one-club city, the local fans have been delighted with Die Roten’s adventures so far. A hard-fought win over fancied Sevilla in the qualifiers saw Hannover drawn in an evenly matched group – it would be out of character for this humble club to say they were pleased with an easy draw in their first Europa League season – and they progressed to the last 32.
So who should Club Brugge watch out for, in a team of virtual unknowns outside of Germany (and indeed their own city for a few of them)? Lastseason’s star, and firm fans’ favourite, is Didi Ya Konan, but the striker is unlikely to play having just returned from the African Cup of Nations with Ivory Coast. It’s unlikely he would have started anyway, as the preferred front two this season has been the slow but skilful Jan Schlaudraff and the improving Mo Abdellaoue, who has reportedly been interesting Arsenal (although this wasn’t reported by Arsenal, it’s worth pointing out). Brugge will need to watch his pace; play too far forward and they will be caught on through balls to him, like many Bundesliga defences have been.
Hannover’s strength comes from its midfield – a solid four led by Sergio Pinto, a Portuguese who dictates the play with sharp tackles followed by short, quick passes out wide to Konstantin Rausch and Lars Stindl on the flanks. Pinto is usually supported by Schmeidebach in the middle, a similarly tidy player. They aren’t flashy, but they are effective and hard to break down.
The back four follows a similar mould – solid but unspectacular, although Christian Schulz would surely have more Germany caps were he not competing with Phillip Lahm for the left-back position. New signing Christian Pander has been filling in while Schulz is injured. The American Steven Cherundolo captains the team at right back. Tunisia captain Karim Haggui partners the well-known Emmanuel Pogatetz in the centre for a sturdy but slow pairing. They win virtually all battles in the air, fewer on the
ground. Behind them is another star in the making, Ron-Robert Zieler, who will soon be putting pressure on Manuel Neuer in the national team.
Hannover have found it harder to catch their German rivals out on the break this season, as teams play deeper against them – witness their run of seven draws in their last ten Bundesliga game. There is now more onus on Schlaudraff to provide the breakthroughs up front, and his form has caught the eye this season, with talk of a Germany recall or that dream of all Bundesliga players, a move to Bayern (for him it would be a return). If Brugge stop Schlaudraff, and keep an eye on Abdellaoue, then Hannover
might quickly look short of ideas. But don’t bank against them blocking out Brugge too, and grinding out a narrow win over the two legs. And whatever you do, don’t let it come to penalties against a German team.
Hannover the city
For anyone visiting Hannover for the game, head to the old town near the towering Marktkirche in the city centre for a drink before the game, or one of the bars in too-cool-for-school Linden, a 10-minute walk from the AWD arena. If you arrive early, head to the Markthalle near the city centre for the best value food in town. And be sure to try Herrenhauser, the local beer that will meet even the high Belgian standards. Delicious. A potter around the Maschsee, just beside the stadium, is also recommended. You can even skate on it if you like – it’s currently frozen.