Hanover 96 has managed a respectable 2-2 draw away to Belgian club Standard Liege in the first leg of their Europa League round of 16 matchup. Schalke, meanwhile, suffered a 0-1 loss away to FC Twente.
Liege controlled the opening exchanges of their date with the Germans at the Stade Maurice Dufrasne, keen to press their home advantage and partisan support. They sent consecutive menacing waves down their right flank through Serge Gakpe, Gohi Bi Cyriac and Mohamed Tchite, which Hanover's left back Christian Pander and defensive partner Karim Haggui at times struggled to contain.
It took around 20 minutes until Hanover's attacking third managed to string together some meaningful offensive passing, with one movement culminating in Konstantin Rausch earning his team a penalty in the 22nd minute - very much against the run of play. Rausch was lucky to be awarded the penalty after replays showed the sliding Kanu had made little if any contact. Lars Stindl stepped up and converted to give the visitors the lead. 0-1 to Hanover.
This seemed to wake up the likes of Didier Ya Konan and Mame Diouf, who began linking more effectively with the midfield and making some more intentioned diagonal runs at the Liege back four.
But the gathering momentum was all for nothing when Liege pulled even five minutes after going behind through a counterattacking break down the right. Tchite did well to step up Hanover's American captain Steve Cherundolo and get a cross in for an onrushing Yoni Buyens, who side-footed past a rightward-lunging Ron-Robert Zieler. 1-1.
It took the Belgians only three more minutes to seize the lead, as Tchite got his head on the end of a perfect corner ball after pushing off a poor effort at marking in the box by Sofian Chahed. 2-1 to Liege.
If Hanover coach Mirko Slomka was seething at his team's first half crumble, Diouf brought a smile to his boss's face when he was on hand at the back post to tap in a cross from Yo Konan in the 56th minute. Slomka, unwilling to reward the Senegalese international's effort, had him replaced minutes later.
The second half turned scrappy and neither team managed any clear-cut scoring opportunities until deep into injury time. A free kick from the right was met by the Brazilian Felipe, whose header was fumbled by Zieler. The ball bobbled across goal, defying the lunges of several Liege players before Tchite's shot missed the target from close range.
And so the match ended in stalemate. Hanover should be satisfied with the result and upbeat about their chances of snatching victory in the return-leg fixture at Hanover Arena on March 15.
Zieler said he felt his team had deserved a draw for their effort: "It is a good result for us, even though I always want to play each match without conceding a goal. But we are very strong at home, so we should make use of that and if we do, we have a good chance of going through."
Royal Blues fade
Earlier Thursday, Schalke went down 1-0 to Dutch club FC Twente.
The clubs had met only once before, back in the 2008-09 UEFA Cup group stage, when Steve McClaren's Twente beat Schalke 2-1.
Their second matchup produced the same goal differential, with Luuk de Jong netting from the penalty spot in the 61st minute after being brought down by Joel Matip, who earned a straight red for his effort.
Matip was hard done by to have seen red after replays showed de Jong had tripped over his own heel. Indeed, if there had been any contact at all, it certainly took place outside the box.
After the match, Schalke coach Horst Heldt was livid with Scottish referee Craig Thomson: "The player tripped over his own legs. It was a ridiculous decision. It makes no fun if such an amateur is in charge."
In other matches, Atletico Madrid beat Turkish club Besiktas 3-1, while Olympiakos Piraeus took a major step towards the quarterfinals with a 1-0 victory at Metalist Kharkiv in a game the Ukrainian side finished with 10 men.
Elsewhere, Portuguese club Sporting Lisbon prevailed 1-0 against Premier League leaders Manchester City after Brazilian defender Xandao scored shortly after the restart. City's cross-town rivals, Manchester United, went down uncharacteristically at home 2-3 to Athletic, while Valencia beat PSV Eindhoven 4-2 and AZ Alkmaar defeated Udinese 2-0 at home.
Author: Darren Mara
Editor: Martin Kuebler