Bruno Labbadia Dan Petrescu

Long, Long Way to Go

4:11 PMGoalChatter

"Action and reaction, ebb and flow, trial and error, change - this is the rhythm of living. Out of our over-confidence, fear; out of our fear, clearer vision, fresh hope. And out of hope, progress."
- Bruce Barton

Stuttgart players Torun, Traore, Hajnal, and co. celebrate their teammate's goal. Source: jerrykiki
In the last round before the Group Stage of the Europa League, Bundesliga's VfB Stuttgart defeated RPL side FC Dynamo Moscow 2-0 at Mercedes-Benz Arena. The fact that the game was a bit of a sleeper didn't prevent fans from coming out to support their teams. The stadium really filled up during halftime. 5-time German champions Stuttgart, who finished 6th in the 2011-12 season of the Bundesliga, faced off against a team that lost 5 consecutive league games, scoring only one goal and winning only in their last qualifier against Scottish side Dundee United. For Dynamo captain Kevin Kuranyi, the match was a bit nostalgic. The striker ended his youth career playing for Stuttgart and played for both the reserve team and the main team in the early 2000's. The match was an important one for Dynamo's new coach, Chelsea "Ledge" Dan Petrescu. The Romanian manager's debut match wasn't exactly a party, but it did give him his first real insight into the team's issues and a useful view from the sidelines, as he has to miss another RPL match due to his disqualification. 

Dynamo's Luke Wilkshire made a few early challenges; the Sergio Ramos of Dynamo earned his customary yellow of the match on the 5th minute of play. There wasn't much action on the pitch from either team, and the commentator filled up the time by reminiscing on Stuttgart's success. The German team won the championship and were runners-up of the German Cup 5 years ago. Evidently, today's Stuttgart is as far from their past success as Dynamo is from their last victory. The German team had more of the ball, but weren't making a real effort of storming the net. The guests, meanwhile, kept losing the ball in completely pointless scenarios that even a third league English club wouldn't be caught in the middle of. Though neither team had an edge to their game, the cheers of Dynamo fans escalated when Wilkshire passed to Balázs Dzsudzsák, but the latter  shot the ball high into the stands. Stuttgart's Shinji Okazaki made a few runs up the left flank and would have gotten away with getting an assist if it wasn't for his meddling teammates. The German club's forwards were like the Dynamo defense; though physically present, they made the occasional uninsightful appearance on the pitch. Dynamo keeper Shunin barely saved Martin Harnik's header on the 27th minute, a warning to the Russian team. Despite the fact that the Germans weren't pushing forward, Dynamo players chose to lie low and stick around on their half of the pitch, where they kept losing the ball. Some of Stuttgart's fouls were ignored by the Scottish referee, making the commentator question whether the official was simply going easy on the teams because of the situation with Glasgow Rangers. Yusupov, not one to usually create something effective, had a shot from 35 meters out, but the ball was well off target. Frustrated with his team's lack of action, Dan Petrescu subbed out Misimovic for Semshov on the 38th minute of play. Perhaps he assumed that the veteran player, who wasn't getting call-ups for the National Team, would be motivated to prove himself on the pitch and thus freshen things up. It was the Dynamo defense, however, that was effective in the last ten minutes of the first half, preventing Harnik from making a vital pass. Dynamo got a few set pieces, all of which amounted to nothing. A result-less first half for both teams still saw much more of the German team than the Russians. Stuttgart led 4-2 in shots, 2 of which were on goal, while Dynamo hadn't even hit the target. The Germans were ahead on set pieces. Dynamo was only ahead in fouls (9-8). 

The lack of halftime substitutions was surprising; at this point, both teams needed to make significant changes and take risks. It's the playoff stage - there's no messing around. Not surprisingly, Artur Yusupov earned the second yellow of the match. The Dynamo midfielder was booked for a completely unnecessary challenge. Noboa's foul gave away a free kick to Stuttgart early on. FCD had a free kick themselves, but the usual scenario was in play. Yet Stuttgart were swooping around the opposition's box, and they weren't about to leave anytime soon. Bruno Labbadia, who took over as manager of the German club after the team's rendezvous in the relegation zone in the 2010-2011 season, made a double substitution. Okazaki, who was no longer as active as he was at the start of the first half, came off for left winger Ibrahima Traoré, while Tunay Torun came on for Harnik. The Germans continued to occupy the opposition's box, with the exception of Dynamo's first corner on the 68th minute. Labbadia knew how to change up the game - the lackluster team finally countered, and Shunin cleared the ball out for a throw-in. Unfortunately, the Dynamo keeper is the Catastrophe James of Russian football. Defender Tim Hoogland, on loan from Schalke, had a shot that could have been easily taken by an average goalkeeper. Shunin bounced the ball away instead, and the stale defense stood motionless as Vedad Ibisevic shot the ball in on the rebound from close range. Kuranyi, who was playing with an injury, was subbed off for the 17-year-old rookie Andrei Panyukov. Meanwhile, Stuttgart's Hajnal left the pitch for forward Cacau. The Germans were finally putting on the pressure, something that Dynamo hadn't been able to do at all during the match. As soon as Cacao came on, he attempted to get a long range shot in. A corner by the home team was successfully cleared by Shunin. Petrescu's last sub was bringing on Vladimir Granat for Pavel Nyakhaychyk. A pseudo-attempt by Dynamo finally came on the 87th minute when a delivery from the left flank gave Leandro Fernandez and Panyukov the opportunity for a header, but neither player could reach the ball. Stuttgart's next corner was cleared by Shunin, and the rebound by William Kvist went over the net. Cacao was still looking for a goal, but his attempt fell through as well. It was almost too easy to assume that the match was coming to a close. Yet Stuttgart wasn't done. Traore curved the ball toward Ibisevic. The Dynamo defense practically gave away the second goal, and the Bosnian footballer celebrated his double. Dynamo did little in added time, though they finally got a bit of possession and a set piece. The team's sloppy handling of the ball ended the first leg of the playoffs in a loss, while Stuttgart set a great precursor for their season in the Bundesliga.

One of the oft-used sayings about any sport is that one learns much less from victory than from defeat. Hopefully that translates into Dan Petrescu learning of Dynamo's non-existent midfield and lack of physical fitness. The transfer window is still open for about 2 more weeks. Will FCD pick up at least one new player? Will Petrescu find a way to both motivate the players and get the team in shape for the coming games? It's quite likely we'll find the answers to these and other questions very soon. In just 3 days, the Russian team will play their 6th game of the RPL against Lokomotiv. The second leg of the Europa League qualification playoffs against Stuttgart will be played on the 28th at 12pm EST. Dynamo's 7th RPL match on September 2nd will be against none other than Dan Petrescu's former club, Kuban. It doesn't get more ironic than this. Except maybe if Dynamo somehow won the RPL this season. The world of football is full of surprises. As Southampton's recent match with Manchester City showed, there's no telling what's in store for any team this season.

UEFA Europa League Qualifiers - Playoff Stage
Wednesday, August 22, 2012, 12:15pm EST

VfB Stuttgart vs. FC Dynamo Moscow - 2:0 (0:0) 
Arena: Mercedes-Benz Arena (Stuttgart, Germany)
Referee: William Collum (Scotland)
1:0 Vedad Ibisevic ('71)
2:0 Vedad Ibisevic (Asst. Ibrahima Traore) ('90+)

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