For the 2011/12 season a group of likeminded bloggers are getting together to blog about the excellent and exciting Europa League. Please follow @EuropaLegion for all the latest posts and info. There will not be a new site, just lots of posts on some excellent websites. Here goes my first contribution.
The same day that Liverpool and Spurs locked horns to see who could disrespect the Europa League more. There was disappointed for a few teams in the Eredivisie. Heracles last day win secured their place in the Europa League play-offs meaning FC Utrecht missed out on the chance of European football.
FC Groningen’s failure to beat PSV at the Euroborg meant they couldn’t catch AZ Alkmaar for the last automatic spot. What’s this you say! Teams battling at the end of the season to PLAY in the Europa League. Madness!
It seems the English mentality of negativity towards UEFA’s other competition doesn’t carry across the channel. PSV and AZ Alkmaar’s 3rd and 4th place finish secured their spots in the 3rd qualifying round and then teams from 5th to 8th would do battle to see who would be the Netherlands 3rd and final participant.
Over both semi-finals we were treated to 17 goals and bucket loads of action to boot. ADO Den Haag did enough to see off Roda JC 6-3 on aggregated and FC Groningen’s two goals at Heracles were enough to secure a 4-4 win on away goals. The final was set and again would be over two legs.
ADO finished the season three points behind Groningen, with very little separating the two sides over the league campaign a close match was expected. The wind and rain furiously swept through ADO’s Kyocera Stadium but not even a floodlight failure and torrential downpour would dampen the home side’s spirit.
Jens Toornstra a 22-year old midfielder doubled his goal tally for the season with a superb hat-trick. Goals either side of the half time interval put ADO in a commanding position. Jonas Ivens pulled a goal back for the away side, a goal that would become so important later on.
Four minutes after being pegged back ADO stretched the lead again hometown boy Lex Immers fired his shot low and hard past Luciano to make it 3-1. The Hague fans were on their feet again shortly after when Toornstra completed his hat-trick after pouncing on Immers flick to scoop the ball past the Groningen ‘keeper.
The job looked complete when Luciano could only palm Roman Leeuwin’s speculative shot into his own net. A commanding 5-1 lead for Den Haag to take to the Euroborg. Only a disaster would deny them European football for the first time since 1988. It couldn’t happen…could it.
In his first season in charge Pieter Huistra had the impossible job of picking his team up and making them believe the comeback was possible. Would the boost come from top scorer and Napoli bound Tim Matavž appearing from the start or the youthful enthusiasm of young Virgil van Dijk.
Dmitri Bulykin was back to lead the line for ADO, Slovakian star Frantisek Kubik moved to the bench. No surprise however that hat-trick hero Toornstra took his place in the Den Haag midfield. The game started well for both sides, Groningen applying the early pressure trying to keep the home fans in good voice early on.
After 24 minutes Groningen got the breakthrough, Dusan Tadic with a superb cross from the right and it was the Slovenian striker Matavž who rose highest and superbly found the net with a diving header. Still a long way back though. And it looked like mission impossible when Immers pounced on van Dijk’s mistake to level the scores on the day and keep Den Haag’s four goal cushion intact.
During the interval Huistra made an interesting tactical change. Moving the young van Dijk from defence to attack hoping the youngster could make some sort of impact. Instantly it paid off. Groningen won a free-kick early in the second half, the youngster took control and with great technique curled the shot around the wall and beat Coutinho at his near post.
The next eight minutes were a disaster for ADO. Leandro Bacuna’s powerful long range shot followed by van Dijk’s second made the score line 4-1 on the day and 6-5 over both legs. One more goal and the tie would be level. Dreamland for Groningen, the stuff of nightmares for ADO.
Things were about to get worse for ADO, with their backs against the wall it was all hands on deck to keep the home side out. Unfortunately Mitchell Pique took it literally, judged to have handled the ball in the box; he was given a straight red. Matavž calmly stepped up and scored Groningen’s 5th the tie was level. The comeback complete.
Extra-time came and went, Groningen couldn’t find the legs to capatilise on the one man advantage and the game would be decided on penalties. As if this game needed any more excitement we were going to get it.
Both teams scored their first two penalties before ADO’s Radosavljevic and Groningen’s Tim Sparv both missed. Pascal Bosschart’s converted his penalty and gave Den Haag the lead. Tadic keep his cool to level the scores once again.
Wesley Verhoek made it 4-3 to ADO and that left Tim Matavž with the final penalty before sudden death. It would also be his last strike of a ball as a Groningen player. After scoring the penalty to level the scores on aggregate it would be down to the Slovenian to keep his side in the match once again.
What better way than a slow motion video to show you what happened.
With the miss ADO after throwing away a four goal advantage had qualified for the Europa League. A wonderful achievement for the club and a reason to celebrate for the fans. If only all other leagues could show this desire to be part of the competition.
ADO Den Haag HUP HUP HUP!