Stories and pictures of the beautiful game.
“Respect to Petrolul” read a banner in the Vitesse block – a response to the first leg of the Europa League qualifying match in Romania between FC Petrolul Ploiesti (finished third last season) and the Dutch team of B.V. Vitesse Arnhem (fourth in 2013/14): The match ended 1:1 but that did not matter much, as the sudden death of 47-year-old Johan Wagendorp, a life-long die hard Vitesse supporter, overshadowed everything else. In honor of the deceased, the Romanian fans displayed a banner at their ground Stadionul Ilie Oană: „R.I.P. Vitesse Supporter“. They took it to Arnhem as well, and after displaying it in the away section, moved it to the home supporters’ stand.
“Respect to Petrolul” was the Vitesse supporter’s way of saying thanks. But the Romanians earned a large amount of respect tonight as well. The “Gelredome” multi-purpose arena has a bit of a sterile charm: the corners are sealed off, so that the four stands are quite isolated from each other, and the colorful plastic seats don’t help much either – especially given that only 10,088 of the 25,000 were taken today. About 250 of those by the “Lupii Galbeni”, the yellow wolves, as the Romanians are also called. They had to travel more than 1,300 miles (2,100km) for the match.
As common at many Dutch grounds, very loud techno- and pop beats were blasting through the speakers before kick-off, drowning out any chants. Right before the teams entered the pitch, a trained bald eagle was released and flew across the ground carrying Vitesse’s colors.
Kick-off! While the home fans only cheered occasionally, the Ploiesti supporters started right from the start with a variety of songs and chants as well as choreographed clapping and displays of their scarves. They even threw them in the air for quite some time. Overall the support was very diverse and intense, the small group was hard to overhear or overlook. And their team responded accordingly – you could tell that Petrolul came to win, they fought bravely and it paid off: Damien Boudjemaa scored in the second half and the away block was bathed in a bit of firelight.
The Ploiesti defense did not give the Arnhem attackers much room, and the “Lupii Galbeni” kept up their good support as well, lighting another fire at the beginning of the second half. They only took a very small break, which was exactly the time when Vitesse equalized (minute 71). Vitesse would have managed to get to extra time with that result, but they were suddenly energized by their goal and kept attacking. The odds turned even more against Petrolul when they lost a man on a yellow-red card ten minutes before the end. The Vitesse supporters were finally awake and kept pushing their team further on.
The Romanian fans were also back in good voice at that point, and the visitors eventually regained the fighting spirit they had displayed earlier. Despite being one man down, they managed a few attacks, but that made them vulnerable to counter attacks. The game went back and forth – both teams wanted to avoid extra time at all cost. The three minutes of stoppage time were already up, when Petrolul got a final free-kick near the box. From there, the ball went past a confused defense, past the confused goalkeeper in the back of the net. Final whistle, a shocked home side and ecstatic visitors – you could not have come up with a better script for this match.
FC Petrolul Ploiesti earned this victory in every respect as fans and team gave everything they had. They are a real asset to the Europa League and they get to prove their skills against English League Cup winners Swansea City in the next round.