Hamburger SV will take a narrow lead to Belgium next week after coming from behind to beat R. Standard de Liège 2-1 in their UEFA Europa League quarter-final first leg.
Hamburg went into tonight without a win in four games, and looked set for more disappointment when Dieudonné Mbokani headed the visitors in front just after the half-hour mark. Two goals in four minutes at the end of the first half from Mladen Petrić, a penalty, and Ruud van Nistelrooy turned the game on its head, though Standard did enough in the second period to suggest this tie is far from over.
The home side's early passing was a slick as the pitch at the Hamburg Arena, with Jonathan Pitroipa a vibrant presence on the left, but they were soon up against it. A brief spell of Standard pressure brought blocks from Jerome Boateng and last-ditch tackles from Joris Mathijsen though when Sebastien Pocognoli sent a corner in there was not a defender in sight – Mbokani powered in his header.
HSV responded well, even if the ball was refusing to obey the men in white. If they willed it to sit up kindly it jumped off the turf; if they tried to force it into the net it bounded towards the corner flag. Van Nistelrooy coaxed it as close as the post on the turn but back it came. Then, with half-time approaching, they brought it to heel.
The relief was palpable when Petrić converted from the spot after Marcos Camozzato tripped Pitroipa, making way for pure joy on the cusp of half-time when Van Nistelrooy got ahead of Pocognoli to steer in Dennis Aogo's testing centre.
It should have been 2-2 midway through the second half when Mbokani headed over Frank Rost and against the bar after Igor De Camargo's deft chip. He fired the rebound across goal as Standard ended strongly. Hamburg held on, though they were, of course, in an even better position at the halfway stage of their last-16 tie against RSC Anderlecht before enduring a fraught second leg. Bruno Labbadia will hope for smoother progress this time around.