Thursday, July 16, 2009

K. Lyra TSV – KV Mechelen (05-07-2009)

As I had to be back in Europe for a good week, I took the opportunity to see some games. It had been way too long; although I do enjoy to visit ‘soccer’ games in the US, they often miss the atmosphere of even the small league European games. Anyway, this Sunday P.S. and I decided to stay close to home, i.e. the Antwerp region, and go to Lier, a mere 15 minutes by train, to see a friendly game between K. Lyra TSV (Fourth Division) and my Belgian team, KV Mechelen (First Division).

A short history of the hosts is necessary here. K. Lyra TSV was founded in 1972, in protest of the fact that the original Koninklijke Lyra (Royal Lyra) had merged with Lierse SK, the other team from the ‘city’. The original K. Lyra was founded in 1909 and became an established name in Belgian football in the 1930s, even making it to the cup final in 1935. In the 1950s things started to go wrong, leading to relegations and the eventual merger. Although K. Lyra TSV was officially a new team, they consider themselves the official successor of the original team, and therefore claim to exist 100 years. The game against KV Mechelen celebrated the (constructed) occasion.

We arrived at the Lyra Stadion, an old-school inner-city stadium that allegedly holds 6.000 people. We were well in time for snacks, drinks, and pictures. It was a subtropical summer day, unusual for Belgium, so perfect to watch a game (but less attractive to play one). We bought tickets for the covered stand at € 12.50 each – I had been caught cold by a tropical rain burst earlier that day, so I wanted to be safe – while uncovered standing places cost € 9. There were a good 500 people, roughly 350 fans of KV Mechelen (a mere 15 km away).

Even though this was probably the biggest game for Lyra in years, they missed various players because the holidays had just started in Belgium. As a consequence, they played with various ‘mercenaries’. KV Mechelen, on the other hand, had started their campaign and used the game mostly to test new players. This would make for a very uneven, but still entertaining game.

From the first minute KVM created chances. In the 5th minute, after a good pass from the left, one of the strikers headed the ball in from 5 meters: 0-1. Roughly 7 minutes later an almost identical attack was finished by another striker: 0-2. Although the lead of Malinwa was deserved, they didn’t play very well, and were particularly vulnerable in the back. After 20 minutes the referee stopped the game for a short drink break – well deserved in that heat and humidity.

Only minutes after the break the visitors scored 0-3, again after a pass from the left winger, but this time finished by foot and low in the corner. Again two minutes later they scored from a corner, after two headers: 0-4.

This seemed to fulfill the visitors’ ambitions, as they stopped pressuring and even allowed a fairly easy ‘counter attack’ to go in: 1-4. This was also the half-time score, even though both the speaker and the scoreboard insisted on 1-3.

As a consequence of substitutions and tiredness (at least in part a consequence of the heat) the second half was slower and less exciting. Malinwa created several chances, but the finishing was poor. Lyra created only a few chances, most notably a good shot from roughly 20 meters at the goalie in the 55th minute. However, the next minute the visitors got a clear penalty, which was converted successfully: 1-5.

The rest of the game I was mesmerized by the Tidiane Baba Kourouma (#27 of KVM), an 18 year old holding midfielder from Guinea-Bissau, who seemed a bit lost on the pitch, but out of nowhere made great offensive interceptions with his telescopic legs. His first interception was in the 63rd minute and led to the 1-6.

Roughly 10 minutes, after another drink break, he had another interception, followed by a great pass, but a bad finish. In the 82nd minute a KVM player got injured and, as they had already used all their substitutions (including the goalie), they finished the game with 10 men. This didn’t change the game or score.

To be fair, much of the great experience was due to the company, the weather, and the many away fans. But even without that, K. Lyra TSV is worth a visit by any real groundhopper. The Lyra Stadion is one of the few remaining inner city stadiums, in the middle of a residential area (though behind a gas station), and still has the atmosphere of football in the 1950s.

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