SGL Arena, Augsburg - FC Augsburg 07 went down 2-0 against a very well organised Hoffenheim outfit. Ryan Babel opened the scoring after just 5 minutes with a clinical strike on the edge of the penalty area after a mazy run. He coolly slotted the ball in low across goalkeeper Simon Jentzsch.
Augsburg were awarded a penalty in the 58th minute that Sascha Mölders took far too casually and was saved easily by Tom Starke who correctly guessed the direction to save it. At the other end Hoffenheim were also gifted a second-half penalty which Sejad Salihovic neatly tucked away for the visitors' second goal.
In the first half the gulf in class between the two sides was evident for all to see. It seemed that Augsburg were giving far too much respect to their visitors and allowed them to move the ball around with ease. Hoffenheim showed their experience and enjoyed long spells of possession. They attacked from deep and unlike Augsburg, they worked the ball forward from the keeper whereas Augsburg opted to simply blasted all goal kicks long and hopeful.
Credit where it's due though, Augsburg put up a fight and did cause Hoffenheim some problems when they started to pull themselves into the match. Axel Bellinghausen caused all sorts of trouble down the left flank. He had German international Andreas Beck in his pocket for most of the game. He was faster and stronger than his opposite number and that led to Beck playing up to the referee on more than one occasion. The fans voiced their disapproval of this tactic by whistling Beck each time he had the ball. Not pretty to watch and not what you would expect from such a highly rated young player.
Hoffenheim's creativity came from Salihovic who covered defensive duties as well as carry the ball further up the field. His composure and ball control was superb. His vision enabled his side to unlock Augsburg time and again.
For Augsburg, Daniel Baier was putting in a star performance and made a real nuisance of himself. He had what was possibly the home sides' best effort of the first half, parried by the goalkeeper in the 36th minute. A sweetly hit a venomous shot, on target from around 30 yards out. Sadly the result of that was a corner which ultimately came to nothing.
The end of the first half finished up a lot more physical affair and referee Markus Wingenbach had his work cut out. His decisions seemed to favour the visitors much to the disgust of the home support who let this be known. Despite more than a dozen fouls called not a single yellow card was brandished to either side.
41-year-old Holger Stanislawski, who joined Hoffenheim as their new manager from St Pauli in the summer, looks to be doing a good job with his young squad. He was clearly pleased with his side's first half performance and the few hundred travelling fans were too.
Hoffenheim got the second half started and quickly got back into their rhythm. Babel stood out as a class act with his deft touches and ability to find a yard of space where it counts but it was Baier again that had the crowd cheering when he picked up a loose ball from half way and ran on to blast a 40 yard effort low and goal bound, Starke had to be at full stretch to push it around his right post for a corner.
The referee continued his questionable performance. Ghanian defender Isaac Vorsah was caught in possession deep in his own half and then appeared to simply fall to the ground. The referee fell for the whole thing and awarded him a free kick. The crowd was incensed and rightly so.
Then, just after the hour mark came the chance for Augsburg to pull level when they earned a penalty for a foul on Bellinghausen by Beck. It was harsh on Beck who was attempting to hook a high ball clear from just inside the penalty area. He appeared to catch the onrushing Bellinghausen with his boot, Bellinghausen fell inside the area and the ref pointed straight to spot.
With three goals this season already new boy Mölders was given the responsibility to tuck this one away for his fourth but his casual left footed shot lacked any ferocity and by guessing the right way Starke saved comfortably.
By this time Augsburg were playing with a bit more fire in their bellies and were taking the game firmly to their visitors but still lacked any movement up front. Down the left wing with Bellinghausen was where all the action was but without support in the area it was futile and chance after chance went begging because no one was there to finish it.
Lady luck certainly favoured Hoffenheim. Substitute Tobias Werner, on for Marcel De Jong had not spent a minute on the pitch when he found himself clear through on goal, played in by Japan international Hosogai, he came one on one with the keeper. His low shot beat the keeper, hit the far post and rebounded all the way across the goal line and to safety. Just fractionally narrower on the angle and it would have been all-square.
With a quarter of an hour to play Jonas De Roeck gave away a penalty for a trip on Fabien Johnson. Johnson had been double teamed at the corner flag but skillfully evaded the pressure and danced into the box only to fall over De Roecks outstretched leg. He made the most of it but it was nailed on. The referee had no choice and Sejad Salihovic converted the spot kick to put his side 2 goals to the good.
Things went from bad to worse when inside the last ten minutes Captain Paul Verhaegh suffered what could be a serious knee injury. He'll have scans tonight but manager Jos Luhukay was pessimistic about his chances in the post match press conference.
That capped off a miserable afternoon for Augsburg. However, they were far from outplayed and all credit to them, every player put in a good performance. It was Hoffenheim that showed the experience, fitness and attitude to win the game though.
Afterwards Luhukay bemoaned the missed chances and was quick to compared his young and inexpensive players to a side that are wealthy enough to pay around six million Euros for Ryan Babel. He's right too. For what is essentially a second league side with just 2 or 3 new faces they did tremendously well today and made Hoffenheim work for the result.