Spoils shared in Hanover where Hiroki Sakai (l., against VfB's Shinji Okazaki) earned his first start since February
Spoils shared in Hanover where Hiroki Sakai (l., against VfB's Shinji Okazaki) earned his first start since February

Hannover's Euro ambitions suffer setback

Hanover - Hannover 96's quest to secure a third successive season in European competition suffered a setback after being held to a goalless draw at home to VfB Stuttgart on Matchday 28.

Traore issues first warning

Clear-cut goalscoring chances were at a premium in a mostly low-key encounter, which only began hit the high-notes in the final stages.

Stuttgart proved they were keen to bounce back from last week's narrow home defeat to Borussia Dortmund, pressing high and closing down space relentlessly, causing the hosts several problems in the opening stages. Yet the Hannover backline, marshalled by returning USA international Steven Cherundolo, stood firm, forcing Bruno Labbadia's men to try their luck from the distance.

Ibrahima Traore's chance in the twelfth minute seemed to be the wake-up call Hannover needed. Moments later, both Mame Diouf, one of five new players in the Reds' starting line-up following last week's 2-0 victory at FC Augsburg, and Christian Schulz were presented with their side's first promising opportunities.

Okazaki twice close

With the end of the half approaching, both sets of players appeared to wind down, although Hannover still managed to carved out two half-chances. However, neither Didier Ya Konan's back-heeled attempt, nor a free-kick from Sergio da Silva Pinto troubled Sven Ulreich in the visiting goal.

On two occasions Shinji Okazaki almost gave Stuttgart the perfect start to the second period, first nodding Alexandru Maxim's corner over the crossbar, before shooting straight at Ron-Robert Zieler when unmarked 15 yards out. At the other end of the pitch, the 96ers responded through da Silva Pinto, but he could only send Hiroki Sakai's deep ball wide.

Final flourish

Mirko Slomka tried to add new impetus to the Hannover attack on the hour mark, introducing forwards Mohammed Abdelloue and Jan Schlaudraff for midfielders Sakai and da Silva Pinto. Nevertheless, it was the visitors who looked sharper once they crossed the halfway line, with both Boka and Maxim going close.

In the final stages both teams threw bodies forward, looking for the knockout blow. It was the most free-flowing period of the game, with decent chances at both ends. Ya Konan missed twice, while at the opposite end Maxim almost secured the points for Stuttgart, but his swerving free-kick flew just over, rounding off a frustrating evening for both sides.

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