Tuesday, August 12, 2008

SV Rot-Weiß Oberhausen – Bayer 04 Leverkusen (10-08-2008)

With only a good week to go before my ‘transfer’ to the US, technically I’ll be ‘on loan’, it was time to make my farewell-hop with my friend M.T. As our last hop had been a bit below his standards, I did my best to not drag him into the lower belly of European football again. After several data changes, for a variety of reasons, we agreed upon Sunday 10 August, which turned out perfectly, as it had a serious game just across the Dutch border and only at 17.30. This allowed me to visit his family before setting en route from Leiden to Oberhausen, just over 200 km and a good two hours drive because of all the roadworks. As we had left a bit too late, we arrived close to kick-off.

Forced to park at a 10 minute walk from the stadium, we bought our tickets (at 8 euro) at kick-off time, and entered the standing-only Emscherkurve several minutes later; I was starving and, let’s face it, which non-vegetarian can resist a German Wurst even when he is not hungry? At the program was one of the top games from the first round of the DFB-Pokal (German Cup), between the recently promoted 2. Bundesliga (Second Division) team SV Rot-Weiß Oberhausen (RWO) and long-established 1. Bundesliga (First Division) team Bayer 04 Leverkusen (Bayer), which has been struggling since it “Treble Horror” season 2001-2002 (when it lost the Champions League, German Cup, and German title, all in the last match). Interestingly, the big scoreboard of the Rheinstadion (Rhine Stadium) of RWO was a gift (in 1998) of… Bayer 04 Leverkusen.

As we had expected, it was very busy in the stadium. The Rheinstadion was built in 1926 and has stayed largely the same since. It’s an old-school German stadium, with two covered seating stands on the long side of the pitch (the main stand was built only in 1998), two standing areas behind the goals, and the horrible but inevitable track around the pitch. My personal favorite of the stadium was the little Turm (tower) with clock.

For RWO this was one of the biggest games of the season, and the chance of a possible upset. Moreover, the weather was decent and it was the first official game of the season. According to the club, 10.117 people attended the game, which seems strange, as the full capacity is 21.318, yet the stadium seemed pretty packed. This was particularly true for the Emscherkurve, where the home fans stand; it was so packed that we could hardly see the game. On the Kanalkurve, opposite to us, I estimate that some 2.500 away fans stood; which is not that surprising as Oberhausen and Leverkusen are only 54 km apart, and are both part of the highly industrialized Ruhrgebiet.

Admittedly, I missed quite some of the game because of the packed stand full of tall German, blocking my view, and because of the regular trips to the snacks stand, but I don’t seem to have missed much. Leverkusen was truly appalling, while RWO tried but lacked quality. Most of the first half was battle at the midfield, and only very few true chances were created. Consequently, 0-0 was the only correct half time score.

The second half was not much better. However, as had been in the making for some time, the guests did finally score, in the 69th minute. It was hardly deserved, as Leverkusen clearly had the better team, but most players were almost striking, that’s how little they did.

For much of the game the difference between the neo-second divisionist and the established first divisionist was invisible, which led the home fans to the (accurate) taunt “Erste Bundesliga, niemand weiß warum” (First Division, no one knows why”. Still, they were leading 0-1, which should have been much higher as they were missing two 100% chances in the 88th minute alone! As many home fans had already left the stadium, and we were ready to head back after a disappointing game, the unbelievable happened: in the last minute of extra time RWO scored the equalizer: 1-1 and extra time. Around us people exploded, what a relief!

What followed was Pokalfieber pur (pure cup fever)! Despite the fact that Bayer was starting to play a bit better, it was the outsider that scored in the 97th minute: 2-1. Was a wonder is the making? Unfortunately, no, as one minute before the end of the first half time, Bayer equalized: 2-2. This clearly was a blow to the tired hosts, who had several players with cramps or small injuries. Not surprisingly, despite their awful performance, the guests also scored the winner, in the 11th minute. That was also the final score.

Somehow this game reminded me of some of the games of the Turks at the recent European Championship. They were poor and boring until the dying minutes of regular time, and then exhilarating in extra time. This definitely was a cup classic, even if I would have wanted RWO to win in the end. In any case, the Rheinstadion is definitely worth a visit of you are into old-school German football.

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