Hannover 96 fans have had plenty to cheer in the UEFA Europa League this season. Unbeaten at home in the competition, Die Roten can reach the quarter-finals for the first time with a positive second-leg result against R. Standard de Liège this evening.
Ahead of the match, supporters were treated to an added bonus as the UEFA Europa League Truck Tour stopped off in Hanover for the day. The tour, organised by UEFA in conjunction with adidas, has visited a new city each matchday up to the current round of 16, spreading the spirit and excitement of the competition through the continent.
The state capital of Lower Saxony, Hanover is regarded as an important national hub with excellent road and rail links to other major cities, making it the venue of choice for various international trade fairs. The city is also renowned for its clean local vernacular, referred to by most linguists as the purest form of Standard German.
In addition, Hanover is home to the world's second-largest Oktoberfest behind Munich and a party of similar proportions is likely to break out if 96 indeed reach the last eight of the UEFA Europa League. The Reds are actively seeking to increase their international standing, so this term's European foray has proved an excellent vehicle.
Much of their success over the last couple of years has been down to head coach Mirko Slomka. Hannover have appeared in UEFA competition once before, but never got a taste of the action outside Germany after losing to fellow Bundesliga side SV Werder Bremen in the first round of the 1992/93 UEFA Cup.
The new millennium ushered in a decade of mid-table anonymity, not to mention the tragic death of goalkeeper Robert Enke in 2009, yet local boy Slomka has breathed fresh life into the club since taking over in 2010, leading them to a remarkable fourth-place finish last season.
The 96ers have since established themselves as a top-half team and their performances in Europe have made lifting the UEFA Europa League trophy, which took pride of place in front of the truck, far less of a distant dream. "I think the trophy will be back here at the end of the season," said Hannover fan Sven Nützel, who had just beaten his pal Lukas Naumann at Pro Evolution Soccer on the PlayStation.
Lukas was somewhat less optimistic, saying: "I'll be happy if they make it to the semi-finals and then lose to Man City." Both were looking forward to tonight's game against Standard and felt the UEFA Europa League truck was a "good idea", with Sven enjoying the opportunity to "test his fitness" on the adidas Predator Pass Tool.
The truck also offers supporters the chance to win great prizes in the Grab Your Ticket competition and view exclusive UEFA Europa League memorabilia, not to mention have their photo taken inside the truck and email it to friends and family.
The UEFA Europa League Truck Tour will continue to visit a new city every matchday before finally delivering the famous trophy to the National Arena in Bucharest, Romania, ahead of the final on 9 May. The next stop on the tour will be revealed shortly after Friday's quarter-final draw in Nyon.
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