Hannover and Schalke shared the spoils in the Bundesliga's only game on Sunday, with a 2-2 draw. A tepid first half was rounded off by a great display from Schalke in the second.
Schalke came into the match with a theoretical disadvantage. Not only were they away from home, but their hosts had some extra match practise under their belt, thanks to a fantastic 5-3 away win in the Europa League qualification against Wroclaw in mid-week.
But the Royal Blues had the best of a cagey opening, and were unlucky not to score when a 7th minute corner went loose in the box, and shots by Kyriakos Papadopoulos (blocked) and Roman Neustädter (over) remained fruitless.
But though Schalke managed to made more room for themselves, both sides couldn't or wouldn't risk coming forward in open play. Hannover, in particular, could not re-create their European goal-scoring form.
Hannover coach Mirko Slomka said ahead of the season that his club's only weakness was creating chances through the midfield. Indeed, he was not the only one to notice that half of Hannover's goals last season came from set pieces.
There was not much evidence in the first 45 minutes that he'd found the cure for that failing, and sure enough, Hannover fell back on an old standby - a free-kick from left back Christian Pander - to score the first goal of the game.
Pander's delicious, teasing cross found a completely unmarked Felipe at the far post in the 43rd minute. The new signing - a Brazilian defender from Standard Liege - nodded in a fuss-free header to score on his Bundesliga debut.
In the remaining frenetic minutes of the first period, Hannover located their mojo, and nearly doubled the lead in stoppage time, when the previously anonymous Jan Schlaudraff ran into the box on the right, sent a chip in that goalkeeper Timo Hildebrand could only tip out to Leon Andreasen. But the stout midfielder was falling backwards to get his head on the ball, and could only direct it inches wide.
But it didn't take long for the Royal Blues to find their way back in. A completely new game seemed to begin in the second half, with Schalke stepping up the tempo. They were rewarded with a piece of raw brilliance in the 52nd minute, when star man Klaas-Jan Huntelaar dummied Hannover's goal-scorer Felipe just outside the area, won half a yard of space, and fired an unstoppable shot into Ron-Robert Zieler's bottom right corner.
Duly re-energized, Schalke proceeded to dominate the next 25 minutes, and should have gone ahead in the 59th minute, when Lewis Holtby was only denied by a scrambling Zieler after a brilliant run from the left by Julian Draxler. Holtby made up for his miss only four minutes later though, when Draxler passed the ball out wide to Jermaine Jones, who dropped a beautiful cross for the five-foot-nine-inch man to head in.
But then they took their foot off the gas, and Slomka made a decisive substitution, bringing on Adrian Nikci for the injured Felipe in the 77th minute. Three minutes later, with his first kick of the game, the young Swiss forward equalized for the home side, rounding off a brilliant move orchestrated by Schlaudraff, who jinked his way to the by-line, and pulled the ball back with Hildebrand committed.
The final score looked harsh on Schalke, who dominated much of the game, but they were undone by a defensive lapse at a set piece and a brilliant late intervention from the irrepressible Schlaudraff.