CHANDLER, NÜRNBERG HOLD BAYERN
Chandler battles Ribery
Timothy Chandler played the full 90 minutes for FC Nürnberg in a rough and tumble contest against Bavarian rivals Bayern Munich, doing fine work to neutralize French superstar Franck Ribery on the right side of defense as the hosts battled back to a draw on Saturday afternoon.
Nürnberg's 2011 surge had propelled them within reach of qualification for the 2011-12 Europa League, however there was still much work to do as they were trailing Mainz by three points for the final spot with six games left on the schedule heading into the weekend.
A well-rested Chandler was inserted directly back into head coach Dieter Hecking's starting eleven, replacing Juri Judt at right back after not taking part in their loss to Cologne due to a red card suspension.
On the other side of the ball, a season full of disappointing results had already left the German heavyweights Bayern in turmoil, however off-the-field issues had recently turned the hardcore fans against the team's sporting director Uli Hoeneß. The Reds' upper management had decided to loan hated local rivals and Allianz-Arena tenants 1860 Munich several million Euros to help the club avoid bankruptcy, causing an uproar amongst supporters who saw the move as nothing short of traitorous.
With both teams in a position of desperately needing to pick up the win, whether for their European hopes or to simply win back disgusted fans, the 182nd derby match between the two historical German rivals promised to be a testy affair, and delivered the dramatics befitting of such an event.
Much to the chagrin of the sold out home crowd of over 48,000, Bayern were off to a quick start, opening the scoring after five minutes. Nürnberg left back Javier Pinola lost the ball under pressure from Arjen Robben, who slipped a short diagonal pass into the right side of the area to Thomas Müller. The young German international easily blew past defender Almog Cohen and hit his short shot inside the near post, giving his team the advantage.
While shocked by the lightening-quick deficit, the hosts and the raucous crowd showed no signs of folding and "Der Club" was close to equalizing three minutes later when Mehmet Ekici forced Bayern keeper Thomas Kraft to dive for a dangerous-looking direct free kick that sailed just wide right.
Directly paired against the formidable Ribery, Chandler spent much of the first half keeping the Frenchman hopping on his back feet with his continual pressing runs up the right side, neutralizing his usually vicious attacking prowess and seeming to prove the old adage that the best defense is a good offense.
Following the game, Chandler reflected on the experience of defending against two of the world's most renowned attackers over the space of 14 days, having held Argentinean wunderkind Leo Messi at bay with the national team two weeks before.
"I consider Messi to be a better player, but Ribery is still a substantial player and a tough guy to defend. In any case it was a good learning experience to play one-on-one against him and it gave me a lot of self-confidence."
Robben still remained a threat for Bayern on the other side of the field, feeding Mario Gomez into the area in the 28th minute, however a good piece of defending by Wollscheid and Nürnberg keeper Raphael Schäfer saw the ball blocked out for a corner.
In contrast to the well-organized and disciplined Schäfer, Bayern keeper Kraft flirted with disaster in his own area, nearly committing what would have been a howler worthy of receiving an English passport when he whiffed on an uncontested clearance of a long ball forward from Cohen.
Eigler streaked in to the area hoping to chase down the loose ball for what would be a tap-in before it rolled over the endline, however was just a touch too late, saving Kraft - for the moment - an embarrassing gaffe that would have become a youtube favorite.
Despite their lead, the visitors still argued continuously over decisions on the field, and midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger was lucky to escape his book right before break when he childishly kicked the ball away from a Nürnberg player trying to set up for a free kick while the referee had his back turned.
The second half sunk further into a quagmire of physical play by both teams, which nearly cost Chandler in the 55th minute when Holger Badstuber slid in hard to upend him in an ugly scene which had medics attending to the American.
"I twisted my ankle when Badstuber slid into me," he explained. "It was a really hard foul and he definitely deserved a yellow card for it, but I got through it and was able to play on."
Chandler was back on his feet shortly after and was visibly limping at several points during the final 35 minutes while figuring in much less to the team's forward advances, although he credited the change to an increased need to defend his French counterpart rather than to any lingering effects of Badstuber's tackle.
"I had to hold back and force myself to watch out for Ribery since he was staying forward more."
In contrast to his usual marksman accuracy in the Bayern jersey this season, striker Gomez gave attendees a glimpse of why he is considered a joke amongst fans of the German national team when he shanked a clearly open shot directly in front of goal after Robben had done all the hard work to get him the ball from the right side of the field.
Obviously feeling that he was in danger of being outdone by his bumbling teammate, the already-shambolic Kraft needed only a few seconds to decisively prove once and for all that his name is not just synonymous with bad American cheese products, but also even worse German goalkeeping products, both of which are equally sure to produce severe indigestion.
Kraft attempted to kick the ball out of his area forward to the attackers, however made a mess of things and sent it right to Nürnberg striker Eigler on the left edge of the field. Seeing the keeper well off his line, Eigler sent a high looping shot over his head which rolled over the line for the wholly unexpected equalizer.
"It was definitely a fantastic goal," Chandler applauded after the proceedings.
Robben continued to remain Bayern's most dangerous player on the field and placed a corner in perfect position for substitute Miroslav Klose to attempt to head towards the far post in the 68th minute, but Cohen saved his team by clearing the ball from the line.
Chandler put himself in a potentially risky situation with 18 minutes left when he kept the ball at his feet in his own half of the field, trying to outrun the pressuring Ribery to make a clearance as he headed back towards Nürnberg's danger area with nobody but Schäfer between them and goal. Fortunately for the American international, his speed was on clear display and he managed to round his opponent and get off a long pass to avert any real threat.
Robben looked eager to push his team to the win, pulling off his patented cut towards the middle and getting off a low shot from the top of the area with 13 minutes left, which Schäfer was in position to grab with a diving save.
Gomez again temporarily forgot that he wasn't in a national team jersey when he wasted a golden chance moments later from close range over goal after beating Wollscheid into the box, although he could make the argument that he was just being fair as the referee had failed to recognize his clearly offside position before the run.
With the game winding down and both teams fired up, each had close calls go wanting in the final moments of play.
First Nürnberg substitute Julian Schieber whiffed on an acute-angled volley from an Eigler cross at the left post in the 88th, then Gomez saw his shot from the right outside corner of the 18-yard box blocked one minute later in what many of the Bayern players complained was a missed handball call on Wolf.
The hosts then had the crowd jumping out of their seats two minutes into injury time when Jens Hegeler put the ball into the net after a corner, but it was called back by the referee due to a foul by Wollscheid on Badstuber, with the whistle sounding moments later to signal the end of the game.
Clearly unwilling to accept any blame on his royal self and his herculean teammates for their failure to beat their northern rivals, Robben immediately launched into an insult-filled tirade at referee Knut Kircher after the final whistle. In return for his efforts, he was shown a posthumous straight red that will guarantee Bayern's matchup next weekend against Leverkusen will see a drastic decrease in both whining and on-field dying fish impersonations.
"We're definitely satisfied with the result," the American evaluated of the overall game. "I thought we played well overall. We were really smoking and fighting hard in the second half, and it paid off in the end."
The result, combined with Hannover's 2-0 win over Mainz, proved much more damaging to the visitors, who saw Hannover once again leapfrog them to regain third place in the Bundesliga standings and more importantly control over the league's final Champions League spot.
Nürnberg still remain in sixth place just outside of the last Europa League spot, although their deficit behind Mainz was cut to two points, setting up a dramatic atmosphere when the two teams meet in two weeks.
In the meantime, they must first turn their attention towards relegation-threatened Kaiserslautern who they will visit next weekend.