Berlin, Feb 18 (IANS) It might be a surprising result of the last round of Champions League group matches. Who expected KAA Gent and VfL Wolfsburg to still be left in the competition in the knock-out stages? Many football fans around the world expected Manchester United to top the group but were then upstaged by Germany’s Wolfsburg.
Gent now, more than Wolfsburg, is an example that you can be successful in football without superstars if you manage to create team spirit. Gent and Wolfsburg have reached the round of the last 16 for the first time in their club histories after posting their biggest ever successes. But when the last 16 was drawn, it was clear only one of the underdogs will proceed to the quarter-finals. For each the tie was going to be their personal final three months before the real final will take place, reports Xinhua.
After the first leg, ‘minnows’ Wolfsburg seem on the way to the next round while Gent’s dreams seem to be already over. Julian Draxler (2) and Max Kruse scored the goals for a 3-2 victory few expected. And more: Wolfsburg fans rubbed their eyes. Was this their team that till now had lacked speed, team spirit and determination in the Bundesliga? On the pitch in Gent, Wolfsburg had everything, at least up until the last 15 minutes when Gent almost managed to turn things around after Wolfsburg failed to put up the shutters when 3-0 up. Instead of a clear victory, Wolfsburg has “only” a 3-2 victory to take back home.
Wolfsburg undoubtedly has problems in the domestic league where they lie eighth and far off qualifying for the Champions League next season. The current campaign in Europe’s top club competition is now designed to make up for the crisis back home. And it could well be the turning point for a struggling team and their coach Dieter Hecking, who is under fire after the performances in the Bundesliga.
“We are still counting on qualifying again for the Champions League. Fourth place at the end of the current Bundesliga season is still well within our reach. But no doubt, to reach the quarter-final of this season’s Champions League, will have an enormous impact on our club and our team,” said Wolfsburg CEO Klaus Allofs.
In the Bundesliga, Wolfsburg last weekend won the first game (2-0 against league newcomer FC Ingolstadt) after seven games without a win. Widespread discussions began about the future of Wolfsburg as a football city. Additionally the future seemed to be insecure after the club owner Volkswagen plunged itself into a deep economic crisis. Now Wolfsburg`s fans can hope for better times as qualification for the quarter-finals guarantees several millions of euros. “You could see clearly that the team is not cool enough after we had problems in the Bundesliga,” Allofs continued.
Dreams and expectations have been mountain-high in Wolfsburg. The club from Germany’s north was meant to rise and take on the role as the new challenger to the country’s top dogs, Bayern Munich. Last season with key figure Kevin de Bruyne still in the side, Wolfsburg fulfilled most expectations by winning the 2015 German Cup and finishing as runners-up in the championship. Then De Bruyne left for Manchester City for 80 million euros and the club lost its pace and tumbled into a crisis.
As for Kevin de Bruyne’s importance for the team, one only has to look at his new club who have gone off the boil ever since the Belgian got injured. Wolfsburg’s coach Hecking said, “Kevin de Bruyne is injured and since then things haven’t been going that well for Manchester City. Again we talk about his influence for a team like Manchester. If you look at that you can imagine what Kevin de Brunye was for Wolfsburg.” It could well take some time to replace a star like de Bruyne.
Like Man City, Wolfsburg is not only missing de Bruyne’s speed but his winning mentality, at least until now. The measures Wolfsburg have taken to replace de Bruyne have not quite worked out till now. Max Kruse, Andre Schuerrle and Julian Draxler (all three are candidates for Germany’s Euro 2016 squad) have all not been able to close the gap de Bruyne left. Now, all of a sudden, Draxler and Kruse opened the door to a presumably better future.
There is still a long way to go. Though Wolfsburg did not manage to perform solidly over the full 90 minutes, the victory in the first leg between the underdogs could be a start to better things after all.