UEFA Europa Conference League
Group F Matchday 1
Eintracht Frankfurt v Aberdeen
Thursday 21st September 2023
Deutsche Bank Park, Frankfurt
It was the 19th September 1979 – a Wednesday to be exact. Eintracht Frankfurt came to Pittodrie Stadium in Aberdeen for a UEFA Cup tie. For the Germans the starmen were plentiful. From Hölzenbein, Bruno Pezzey and Charly Körbel through to the great Jurgen Grabowski.
Up front for Eintracht was the real danger man – the South Korean Cha Bum-kun. Released from the Korean military he played one game for Darmstadt, impressing enough to attract the attention of Eintracht Frankfurt in July 1979.
The game against Aberdeen in Scotland was Cha’s first ever European game for Eintracht and he impressed. Alex McLeish, the Scotland international defender, called the South Korean his most difficult ever opponent. He was indeed a surprise package and Cha gave Eintracht the lead after only 12 minutes.
After a draw in Scotland the Germans eventually won the second leg by 1-0 but it was a struggle. Only some last minute defending by the experienced West Germans prevented the game going to extra time.
Step forward 44 years and almost to the day Eintracht and Aberdeen were meeting again – although this time the home and away fixture exchange commenced with a game at the home of the Germans.
While Pittodrie Stadium has not changed much since 1979 the same cannot be said for the Deutsche Bank Arena.
The home of Eintracht Frankfurt stands amongst a woodland in the south of the city near one of Europe’s largest airports. Its history is rich, both from a German national team perspective as well as FIFA and UEFA competition.
It was here at the then Waldstadion in 1974 that Scotland played its dramatic match against Brazil.
Despite gaining a creditable 0-0 draw the Scots lost the chance to defeat the Brazilians when captain Billy Bremner missed the target from a yard out shooting past the post when it looked easier to score.
In 1988 – at the UEFA European Championships – England were comprehensively defeated by the USSR at the Waldstadion.
By 2005 the Waldstadion had become a modern, all seated football theatre – the Commerzbank Arena, one of the most developed and modern in Europe all ready for the 2006 FIFA World Cup. In the year proceeding the 2006 WM tournament, Frankfurt had hosted the Confederations Cup Final between Brazil and Argentina.
Matchnight – Frankfurt
Not so much match night but more early evening.
The 18.45pm kick off between the teams being another sign that modern football has moved on since 1979 all packaged up for digital television channels.
If the days of a 19.30pm kick off have gone then so has the Haupttribune and Gegentribune of the old Waldstadion. Both have disappeared replaced by 2,200 business seats and a 2,800 square metre business club lounge – which has a 600 square metre terrace.
Now overhead arrivals and departures from Frankfurt airport can be seen as you gaze upwards looking through the world’s largest steel-cord inner-roof membrane.
The area around the stadium used to be a military shooting range before the idea came to turn the space into a sports park accessible to all.
As the visiting fans trooped across the dark parkland paths that surrounded the stadium pre-match, there were a fair few of those from Scotland who felt that the game itself would be mere shooting practice for Eintracht Frankfurt.
Optimism was not high but spirits were.
Winners of the Europa League in 2022 the stadium now has a capacity of 51,500 after various renovations brought it up to elite UEFA standards. The swimming pool, winter sports hall and beach volleyball courts remain not far from the main stadium, and, while much of the area is now taken up with training pitches for use by Eintracht Frankfurt this is far from only a football stadium.
Gazing upwards – as the teams emerged – a 30 ton weight video cube provided re-runs of previous Eintracht matches. A technical masterpiece it hovered high above the centre circle awaiting the technical skills of the players that were soon to be on display on the field. In total, 192 modules make up a video screen that measures almost 31 square metres. On each side of the cube there were 147,456 red, yellow and blue LED lights that guarantee a perfect view of the screen from every fan seat.
Eintracht manager Dino Toppmöller rotated his squad for the visit of the Scots, making four changes to the starting line-up after a rather drab draw on the Saturday against Bochum in the Bundesliga. Captain Sebastian Rode, Hrvoje Smolcic, Paxten Aaronson and Omar Marmoush all came in.
The game started in all too predicable fashion.
Junior Dina Ebimbe sneeked in on the blind side and was brought down in the box by Jack MacKenzie in the ninth minute. The Aberdeen defender hestitated showing a real lack of experience and poor body shape. His manager and team mates looked deflated given the need to be switched on was so critical in the opening period.
Marmoush took the penalty and made no mistake, slotting it into the bottom right corner.
Eintracht were controlling possession but were clearly surprised by the defensive line up of Aberdeen.
Aberdeen worked their way back into the game, showing composure and spirit.
The Scots equalised 11 minutes after going behind thanks to a driving run from Miovski. His run towards the goal eventually saw the ball break to Nicky Devlin who cut the ball back for Dante Polvara to finish off one of the best counter attacks Aberdeen have lodged for years.
Mario Götze the 2014 World Cup winner was almost anonymous in that first half and never appeared for the second half. The pattern of play remained fluid with Eintracht continuing to probe a solid five man backline.
Then another set piece let the visitors down.
Like the first goal, the lead was attained from a set piece, but this time a corner. Fares Chaibi who replaced Gotze sent in a outswinging delivery from the right which found Robin Koch, who guided the ball into the corner with a glancing header.
In truth nobody really had a grip of proceedings in this game and the fixture was never the ‘shooting in practice’ it was predicated to be by almost everyone. There were moments in the game for Aberdeen, as there was for Eintracht but the penalty given away in the critical opening period of the game proved crucial to the whole contest.
As the early night faded into the more sombre after match vibe so the stunning stadia surrounds were all lit up. The 3,500 square metres transparent retractable roof structure which consisted of 32 segments lit the sky up in the red of Aberdeen.
And that was it between Aberdeen and its German opponents until they meet, once again, just before Christmas in Scotland.
Eintracht: Trapp – Koch, Smolcic, Pacho – Dina Ebimbe, Rode (Larsson 39’), Skhiri, Nkounkou (Knauff 68’) – Aaronson (Ngankam 46’), Götze (Chaibi 46’) – Marmoush (Buta 82’)
Aberdeen: Roos – Devlin, Gartenmann, Rubezic, Jensen, MacKenzie – Polvara (Hayes 71′), Clarkson (Barron 71′, Shinnie (Duncan 71′), McGrath (Sokler 77′) – Miovski (Duk 56′)
1-0 Marmoush (11’ pen)
1-1 Polvara (22’)
2-1 Koch (61’)