Rot-Weiss Oberhausen 1-3 Hertha BSC
Bloemfontein and Cape Town were the only towns that mattered to German football fans last summer, as Jogi Löw’s boys romped around in the summer sun, trailed forlornly by 11 Englishmen and 11 Argentinians. The losing teams’ despair was heightened all the more by the fact that they actually thought that they had a chance of winning, whereas we in Germany knew all along that it was a foregone conclusion.
This was because we knew about the town of Oberhausen, slap-bang in the middle of a footballing conurbation that also encompasses Duisburg, Bochum, Schalke and Dortmund. While Oberhausen’s name doesn’t quite fit in with the aforementioned in purely footballing terms, its place in football folklore is guaranteed thanks to an ugly great cephalopod whose appetite allowed him to nonchalantly correctly predict the outcomes of all of Germany’s World Cup games.
Last night, in their game against Hertha BSC, Oberhausen’s football team generously passed on the gift of seeing into the future to their opponents, with Hertha’s central defensive pairing of Kaka and Sebastian Neumann the main beneficiaries. They didn’t need eight legs to foresee the persistent long balls humped hopefully in their direction, and just one solid head was more than enough to entirely nullify the Oberhausen threat.
Both teams, however, must have been surprised by the amount of action in the opening 15 minutes. Hertha’s Pierre-Michel Lasogga, full of running all evening despite the very physical nature of the Oberhausen defence, slotted Hertha into an early lead after Kobiashvili’s left wing cross ricocheted off Ramos, and then a defender, and then nicely into his path four yards from goal. Oberhausen’s reply was, obviously, from a long ball into the box from a free kick; at that point in the game, with both teams still feeling each other out, it was almost an original move.
After all, with Hertha’s first-choice central defenders Mijatovic and Hubnik suspended after picking up red cards in the pre-Christmas bruiser with Augsburg, it made sense to hit the new boys with some aeriel bombardment. In the end, it was stand-in captain Christian Lell’s error, adjudged to have hauled down Schlieter as the ball descended from near-earth orbit. The penalty was dispatched, and the game went to sleep, Hertha probing with little success as Oberhausen closed space down well and belted the ball in the vague direction of Pluto whenever possession was regained in the hope that the pacey Lamidi could pluck it out of the sky.
Hertha’s normally creative Rukavytsya on the right was largely anonymous and with Raffael in the centre snuffed out by tight marking, it was Oberhausen and their crude tactics that looked the more likely after the break. Maikel Aerts got down well to palm away a Dennis Grote cross-shot after, yup, a high ball into the box. The Hertha keeper was making his second comeback after a serious knee injury, and this time appears to be back to full fitness.
That’s not to say Hertha’s physios won’t have anything to do over the coming days. Shortly before Aert’s save, Peter Niemeyer pulled up with a hamstring injury and was replaced by one of Hertha’s most exciting youngsters, the Albanian/German Fanol Perdedaj. Within eight minutes, the game was over after some comedy gold in the Oberhausen defence. Hergesell’s back pass bounced uncomfortably on the poor surface and Oberhausen keeper Pirsen swiped wildly at it under pressure from the ever-willing Lasogga, who was rewarded by the simplest of tap-ins. Had he missed, the list of top 10 misses would have had to be redrawn.
Moments later, Lasogga was shunted to the ground in the Oberhausen box, the spot-kick calmly converted by Kobiashivili. A two-goal cushion allowed Hertha boss Markus Babbel to introduce a couple more young players – Nico Schulz, who really should have scored after Adrian Ramos cut the Oberhausen defence into shreds with a beautiful through ball, and International Man of Mystery, Alfredo Morales, he of the Peruvian dad who served in the US Army, the mum from Bayern and the childhood kicking with Latino kids in Berlin’s Wedding district. He’s already represented the USA at youth level, but sees himself as Peruvian despite interest from the DFB.
Hertha are back to joint top of the table, and with solidly comfortable displays like this one, coupled with the emergence of talented youngsters, it doesn’t take residence in Oberhausen and a preference for mussels to see that the future is bright.