Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Hamburger Sport Verein – ajax (08-01-2011)

Having arrived in Amsterdam the morning before, I had taken a day to adjust to the jetlag, before renting a car and making my way to Berlin to join my wife and a group of American students. I had decided to take a detour through Hamburg, which added a good hour to the trip, but also promised the interesting test game (Testspiel) between HSV, the team with the longest history in the 1. Bundesliga (German First Division), and ajax, the Dutch (former) power house.

Fortunately, the Autobahn Gods were good to me, and the many road works didn’t slow me down too much, so around 15.45 I parked at about 10 minutes from the new Imtech Arena. The former Volksparkstadion was last renovated in 1998 and is a modern arena with a capacity of 57.274. I bought a ticket for 8 euro at the Nordkurve (Northern Stand), a standing section behind the goal, where the (young) hardcore home fans gather.

For both teams this game was the biggest test before the start of the season, respectively one and two weeks later. The stadium was roughly half full, officially 22.742, with at least a thousand from Amsterdam (a trip of ca. 465 km/ 290 miles).

It was going to be the game of Dutch star Ruud Van Nistelrooy, enthusiastically cheered on as “Roooooooeeeeeeeeedddddd”, who broke through internationally at PSV Eindhoven, the arch rival of ajax. Already in the 3rd minute he picked up his first one, after some poor defending: 1-0.

After the first goal both teams excelled in losing the ball, which made for an amazingly poor game between these two big European teams. Moreover, the pace was low. In the 24th minute an ajax shot from 16 meters was tipped over the goal, while two minutes later the ajax goalie boxed away a bouncing shot from a HSV player. After a couple of other half-chances on both sides, the hosts executed a great counter that was finished professionally by Van Nistelrooy: 2-0 in the 37th minute. Seven minutes later another counter was finished after Van the Man gave a great sneaky through pass: 3-0. Half-Time!

After circling the stadium at half time, and being struck by the incredibly ugly merchandise in the fan shop, I took my place among the HSV supporters again. The second half seemed to continue as the first one had finished, although HSV missed its early chances. But then, within two minutes, ajax scored twice (I missed both; no, honestly, I did, it’s not because I hate ajax).

However, rather than pushing further, with still one third of the game to go, ajax returned to its horrible level of play, and the hosts were able to consolidate their small lead. In fact, with only 15 minutes to go, Van the Man gets the ball totally free, thinks he is offside, but then continues to score easily: 4-2, also the final score.

I don’t know what it is, but HSV just doesn’t do it for me. There is nothing wrong with the stadium, the support, or the team, but they just miss something, a soul, an identity. This is even more the case when you compare them to their city rival, FC Sankt Pauli, the overcommercialized anarchist city team. HSV might have the longest streak in the 1. Bundesliga, they haven’t made much impact, and are definitely not among my favorite German teams.

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