Adi Hütter’s men completed a perfect Europa League group stage with a 2-1 away win over Lazio. But the focus was on the stands, as 10,000 away fans outnumbered their hosts and made the Olimpico feel like the Waldstadion.
It was an evening full of emotions at the Olimpico stadium in Rome. An evening which, apart from Eintracht’s practically meaningless win at the Olimpico, demonstrated the contrast between two sets of supporters and what the Europa League means to each.
The fans from Frankfurt were the majority in the Olimpico. Some reports in Italy suggested on the morning of that game that only 12,000 tickets were sold for the game and 10,000 had been sold to the visitors. According to the report, Lazio fans didn’t show up due to the relatively low temperature.
The cold certainly didn’t bother the fans in the away end, who despite the best efforts from the Lazio ultras, were far noisier.
But it was also a day of tensions. Heavy police presence was felt throughout Rome’s center, with several helicopters and armed forces personnel taking part in the operation. Five Eintracht Frankfurt fans were reportedly arrested ahead of the game. Two fans from Germany were later said to be hospitalized after clashes with Lazio fans.
The tensions between the two sets of fans have political roots. Eintracht Frankfurt’s ultras maintain a friendship with a similar group affiliated to Italian side Atalanta. Both SGE’s and Atalanta’s ultras groups are aligned with the political left, whereas Lazio’s hardcore fan groups are largely considered to be on the far right. Anti-Lazio stickers in both Italian and German could be spotted across the city center.
At about 15:00, large groups of Eintracht fans who had been crowded around Rome’s Piazza del Popolo were forced to board shuttle buses in the direction of the stadium. The city came to a standstill as the buses crawled along under heavy police supervision.
At the entrance, name checks were carried out to make sure no tickets made their way into the wrong hands. Despite the low turnout, Lazio closed their online ticket sale portal in order to prevent both unauthorized German fans and Italian fans from attending the game. Some eyewitnesses claimed that the police had attempted to confiscate scarves with an anti-Lazio slogan in Italian, but despite the stewards’ best efforts, the scarves were seen across the away end on numerous occasions.
A home game in Italy
When the game started, it felt like only one set of fans was present. Pyrotechnics filled the away end as soon as the referee blew the whistle, and the loud chants of Eintracht’s fans were the only ones heard. Lazio’s ultras attempted to silence them with whistles on numerous occasions, but to no avail.
After a goalless first half, Lazio managed to break the deadlock as Joaquin Correa made the most out of a 56th minute chance. However, that only spurred SGE’s supporters on, and the equalizer came nine minutes later, as Mijat Gacinovic dribbled past two Lazio players and sent the ball beautifully into the top corner.
Six minutes later, Sebastian Haller sent the SGE fans into raptures as he capitalized on a great assist by Gacinovic. The party was on.
As the game was about to come to a close, the travelling supporters started singing their anthem, called “In The Heart Of Europe,” a love song to their team and city. “You are wonderful, you are amazing,” said Eintracht Frankfurt President Peter Fischer using the stadium’s PA system. It was a fitting ending to a night in which this Eintracht Frankfurt team was celebrated both on and off the pitch.
“Who even watched the game,” one journalist asked a colleague after Adi Hütter’s press conference. “Tonight, it was all about the stands.”