Hanover - The federal state of Lower Saxony is in the grips of a severe bout of derby fever ahead of Hannover 96's meeting with Eintracht Braunschweig on Friday night (kick-off 20:30 CET).
'The players cannot wait'
One of the highlights of the Bundesliga campaign and some 37 years in the making, fans around the world could not ask for a better way to kick start the Matchday 12 action.
"We are looking forward to a fantastic derby evening in our sold-out HDI-Arena," beamed Hannover head coach Mirko Slomka. "Anyone knows football and what the club means to these people, will also understand the attraction of these games and the unique emotion involved. Rivalry is great, as long as it does not go over the top [...] We don't want any trouble."
Obliged to keep the peace off the pitch, Hannover are nevertheless fully focused on getting the job done on it. "All the players cannot wait for the derby. We know what the game means for the entire region," explained Reds goalkeeper Ron-Robert Zieler. "Fairness doesn't mean you can't show emotion," added captain Lars Stindl. "We have to keep our aggression in the tackle in check, play our game and stay cool."
'Something really special'
Hannover's calmness under pressure has come under scrutiny in recent weeks, following a run of five games without a win. Bottom club Braunschweig on the other hand, written off earlier in the campaign, appear to be getting to grips with life in the Bundesliga, picking up pivotal wins over regional rivals VfL Wolfsburg and title contenders Bayer 04 Leverkusen in the same period. The Lions are now just three points from safety.
"I'm really looking forward to finding out what awaits us there," said Braunschweig midfielder Mirko Boland. "We're concentrating purely on the sporting side of things and hope it all goes off without a bang [...] A win would be something really special for Braunschweig and the fans, that's for sure. Just like with almost all of our games this season, we go there as the underdogs, but that was the same against Wolfsburg and Leverkusen."
The teams last met at this level during the 1975/1976 season, with Braunschweig falling to a 2-0 defeat on Hannover soil. The Reds were also victorious in their most recent league clash in the third division, securing a 1-0 away win during their 1997/98 promotion-winning campaign, but were unable to repeat the trick in the DFB Cup in 2003, going down 2-0 to a Lions side that included present-day captain Dennis Kruppke and head coach Thorsten Lieberknecht.
"It was a really emotional evening," recalled veteran forward Kruppke. "I'm really pleased that our players are going to able to experience the derby. It lives long in the memory. When you walk through the city, it's all people are talking about. The media are also really focused on the game. It means so much to Braunschweig and of course to our opponents, too. We want to test our mettle against Hannover and are go there wanting to win."
Hannover 96: Zieler - Sakai, Avevor, Schulz, Pocognoli - Hoffmann, Andreasen - Stindl, Prib, Huszti - Sobiech
Eintracht Braunschweig: Davari - Ellabdellaoui, Bicakcic, Dogan, Caligiuri - Kratz, Vrancic, Theuerkauf - Bellarabi, Boland - Kumbela
Check out this beauty from Hannover's Hiroki Sakai, courtesy of the official Bundesliga YouTube channel: