Hannover 96 have cause for trepidation as they head for the Stade Marcel Dufrasne. They lost 2-0 to R. Standard de Liège in the UEFA Europa League group stage in November, having drawn 0-0 against the Belgian side at home.
"Against Hannover we played two of the best games of the season and we went through to the knockout stages," said Standard coach José Riga, whose team lie fifth in Belgium's Eerste Klasse. "We have to focus only on tomorrow's game, though, not dwell on the past."
Opposite number Mirko Slomka certainly is not looking backwards, telling UEFA.com: "It's my firm belief that these games in the knockout phase will have an entirely different character from the group matches. We're hoping for a result that will be good enough to give us every chance in the second leg." If Hannover are to be successful on their foreign raid, they may be thankful for the three 'Vikings' in their squad.
Ivory Coast forward Didier Ya Konan, Senegalese attacker Mame Diouf and Oslo-born Mohammed Abdellaoue all came to the club following spells in Norway, from Rosenborg BK, Molde FK and Vålerenga IF respectively. Hannover sporting director Jörg Schmadtke noted: "Players from Scandinavia tend to have a good team ethic. Those leagues produce footballers who are tactically astute and very athletic with strong character."
Ya Konan was the trailblazer, arriving in summer 2009. He soon established himself as a key player, with his 14 Bundesliga goals in 2010/11 a crucial factor in a fourth-placed finish that saw the club qualify for Europe for the first time since 1992/93. 'Moe' Abdellaoue arrived a year later and the two-time Norwegian player of the year has struck up a good relationship with Ya Konan up front, though he misses the opener against Standard with flu.
Diouf could profit from that. The most recent arrival of the three, he was signed from Manchester United FC for €1.8m in January 2012, having been snapped up by the Old Trafford side in 2009 after scoring 29 goals in 62 league games for Molde. Schmadtke was thrilled to have a second chance to sign him. "We were aware of his qualities," he said. "He has been on our radar for the last few seasons, even before he signed for Manchester United."
Hannover will be missing penalty specialist Jan Schlaudraff through suspension, with midfielder Manuel Schmiedebach and Abdellaoue also out, but set to return for the second leg, when Slomka hopes his side can "finish the job in front of our fans, at a packed out arena." They need to do part one first, however.
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