While yesterday’s antics by Chelsea and the drama in dying minutes get all the coverage, today’s semi-final matchup between Werder Bremen and Hamburg provided significantly more bang for the buck, and a real game to boot. And while there were a few questionable calls, the only German to cover himself in shame, this week, was Mannschaft captain Michael Ballack.
Entering the return leg with a 1-0 lead and a road goal, Martin Jol’s side had the distinct advantage at home in the Nordbank Arena. While the match started tepidly, especially compared to the end-to-end first leg, things changed in the 13th minute. After Pizarro missed a chance for Werder, Hamburg hit on the counter and co-captian Mathijssen hit Olic who waited for Tim Weise to commit before giving HSV a two goal lead.
The way Werder were playing, this looked like the end for Thomas Schaaf’s men. For 120 minutes, they had been absolutely anemic in front of goal. They had dominated possession and created over 20 chances during that stretch, yet couldn’t find the back of the net as their strike force looked to be boys playing against men.
But as has been the case on this remarkable run in the UEFA Cup, Diego stepped up and carried the team. On the half hour mark, he gathered the ball deep in HSV territory. He then played a slick give-and-go with Pizarro, losing his marker much too easily. Getting the ball back free in the box, he leveled the score, giving Werder their first sign of hope. Seven minutes later, he almost gave Werder the advantage when he blasted a long range attempt that Frank Rost was able to deflect onto the bar to save Hamburg’s skin.
Rost wasn’t the only keeper on fire, Weise made six saves, three of them critically important to the final outcome. In the 23rd, he stopped Olic; in the 38th, he stopped Janssen; and, in the 70th he stopped Alex Silva. While Weise’s form never dipped, Rost did have one shocking moment that may have cost the hosts a trip to Turkey. The second goal came when Pizarro gathered a ball near the box, turned by Alex Silva and launched a salvo at the HSV goal. Rost should have saved it, but his reaction was slow and the ball bounced by him. Werder had leveled and were in command on away-goals.
Controversially, they got a third in the 83rd minute, when a projectile caused a back pass by Michael Gravgaard to go out for a corner. The resulting set piece found Captain Frank Baumann unmarked and he headed the third goal in for the tie-winner. What followed was a hectic final 7 minutes, where Hamburg clawed themselves back into the tie when Olic scored from a Boateng cross in the 87th. But that was as close as they came.
Ineviteably, despite the projectile, Hamburg didn’t deserve to win. A Pizarro goal was called offside erroneously in the 52nd, while Pitroipa failed to connect with a sublime low cross by Janssen in the 69th. The ball then fell to Trochowski, but Weise proved why he was the MOM with another brilliant save.
Werder Bremen will now travel to Istanbul in 13 days time to face Shakhtar Donetsk for the UEFA Cup. But they will do so without their talisman Diego, who will miss the game after his third yellow for a shoving match with Alex Silva in the first half. Most importantly, neither Hamburg players nor the Hamburg faithful saw need to attack the ref, swear on camera or make a death threat. Reason #8 why the Bundesliga is better than the EPL.