FC Groningen v ADO, Play-off final 2nd leg.
Warning! Watching ADO Den Haag can seriously damage your nerves and heart rate!!
After last Thursdays stunning 5-1 win for ADO in the Kyocera Stadion, a performance which many fans and journalists have now stated as being the best ever ADO performance in its entire history; many were thinking the return leg was a formality and a straight forward walk into European competition. The fact was; for FC Groningen to qualify, they had to at best, beat ADO 4-0; something that had not been done this season. However, the only team to score four goals against ADO was indeed FC Groningen, a feat they produced in ADO’s own stadium, so a walk over this was not going to be. FC Groningen was a team hurt badly by the defeat and will have wanted to show their pride as individuals and as a team, this final was by no means over.
The game kicked off at quite a steady uninspiring pace. ADO was expected to maybe sit back a bit considering their lead, but there seemed no urgency to Groningen’s approach despite the fact they needed goals.
FC Groningen did eventually get a vital break through in the twenty fourth minute. A cross from Dusan Tadic was perfect for Tim Matavz to fling himself head first to launch a powerful diving header into the back of the ADO goal, a stunning strike, 1-0.
Lex Immers was the one to get ADO a vitally important away goal. Virgil van Dijk lost control of the ball and it fell to the ADO forward with time to pick his spot and lift the ball into the roof of the net.
The rest of the half was a bit of a stalemate, Groningen edging it on possession, I think everybody in the stadium was pleased to hear the half time whistle.
Whatever Pieter Huistra, the Groningen manager said at half time worked wonders; his team came out with a totally different spirit and approach to the game, an approach that paid dividends quickly for them. After several openings, they were awarded a free-kick on the left hand side of the area in the fifty first minute. The kick taken by van Dijk seemed to catch Coutinho totally off guard and bounced into the back of the net, 2-1.
Groningen clawed another goal back in the fifty seventh minute. Leandro Bacuna ran down the right hand side then cut inside the ADO defence before unleashing a hard hit low drive passed Coutinho, 3-1.
ADO heads were dropping and v/d Brom was looking like a man lost as he prowled the touch line uttering to himself. It then got worse shortly after, as in the fifty ninth minute van Dijk again took advantage of a nervous looking ADO keeper, his shot some how beating Coutinho who just looked lost, 4-1.
ADO were falling apart and then tried to just spent the final thirty minutes trying to run the clock down. This turned out to be a pointless exercise as the ADO players could not keep possession of the ball for more than three passes for a steam rolling Groningen took command.
In the final minute of normal time the miracle for Groningen happen and ADO-s worst nightmare came true. After a corner from Tadic the ball reached Matavz whose accurate shot was goal bound, only for the ball to hit Pique on the arm. The referee instantly pointed to the penalty spot and then showed a red card to the ADO player, the protestations were long and loud by the entire ADO staff. The law states that a foul is committed when movement of the hand towards the ball is deemed to have occurred. In this case it was clearly not the case, as Piques hand was down by his thigh and moving nowhere: A terrible decision by the referee. Despite the long delay, Matavz took the penalty kick cleanly and precisely giving Coutinho no chance of saving it, 5-1.
ADO’s Europa league dreams were fast disappearing before their eyes; Groningen where in the ascendancy and looking for another goal to finally bury ADO’s Euro dream.
The full time whistle blew and the home support almost lifted the stadium roof off with the noise they were making. This was an atmosphere worthy of this now intriguing two-legged final, six all on aggregate and extra time to come, amazing stuff and not for the weak hearted.
The extra thirty minutes passed mostly uneventfully as ADO managed to get their foot on the ball and keep possession for longer periods than in the previous ninety minutes. So then it came to the thrilling climax of a penalty shoot-out. Five brave men from each team putting the nerve on the line to gain a place in European football.
The first four penalties were successful, For ADO by Derijck and Immers and for FC Groningen by Granqvist and Enevoldsen. Radosavljevic then stepped up the penalty box. As he kicked the ball he slipped and his foot went under the ball skying it over the crossbar, ADO heads dropped. Next up was Tim Sparv. He shot was good but Coutinho guessed correctly and dived to his left to push the ball away, all square again. Bosschaart then stepped up for ADO, having never scored in the Eredivisie signs looked bad, but ADO need not have worried as he put the ball away with ease. The home sides next taker was Tadic, his shot just beat Coutinho who had gotten his hand to the ball but not managing to force it away. Verhoek then stuck ADO’s forth penalty away leaving the final penalty to be taken by Groningen’s Matavz, their goal hero of the day so far. He struck his shot with plenty of power only to see it crash against the crossbar and away.
The scenes on the pitch of joyous celebration from everybody involved with the ADO staff were great to witness. There were so many tears, so much hugging and dancing. It was heart breaking however to see FC Groningen’s players be man enough to walk over and congratulate the ADO players, very well done considering they must have been shattered.
After the match it was time to race back to the Kyocera stadion to where a welcome party had been planned to thank the players for their effort and that iof the backroom staff, no matter what the outcome of the Groningen game would have been. A crowd of 12,000 people were there to greet the layers and staff as they walked on stage, flares, streamers, a great party welcome The stage was bouncing as they all danced and celebrated in front of their supporters.
Once the silliness had slowed, each player was introduced to the crowd to receive the adulation from the fans. A few of the players were asked if they would be staying, some said yes, others already knew they were leaving, but there were far to many coy answers for my liking. Gino Coutinho was lifted high by his manager and the crowd rewarded this with a fantastic reception.
At the end, John van den Brom quietened the supporters for a more serious speech. He thanked everybody for their effort this season, culminating in their first European qualification for 24 years, a truly fantastic achievement for the Hague club. Emotions got to v/d Brom towards the end, and as this was also being shown on a huge screen next to the stage, the fans roared their approval and sang his name.
So ends a great season for ADO Den Haag, the last two seasons they had been in a serious relegation battles, this time John van den Brom has turned the Haagse club into a force to be reckoned with. Roll on the next season and hope for more of the same.
ADO man of the match: Coutinho, despite his errors making the game go to penalties, his save in the shoot out gives him my vote. Every player has an off day, just wish he hadn’t chosen this one to put everybody through the pain barrier before lifting ADO to ecstasy.