On a wet, windy autumn evening, when the winter coat could be taken out of the closet for a game of Champions League football, Feyenoord has started well in its return to the highest European stage. Scottish Celtic, seen as the weakest opponent in group E, is defeated 2-0 in Rotterdam.
The fact that Feyenoord is back among the European elite after a six-year absence was noticeable on Tuesday evening in Rotterdam-Zuid. The roads around De Kuip are remarkably quiet more than half an hour before kick-off, most of them are already inside – no one wants to be late. It was not without reason that the tickets were sold in no time.
De Kuip literally shakes with excitement, just before 9 p.m., before the players enter the field. But then a tough, somewhat waiting battle awaits for a long time. A tactical joust in which few spaces are given away. Feyenoord’s defense, the best-played line, easily holds its own. Except for a single moment, a quick break from Daizen Maeda, goalkeeper Timon Wellenreuther made a good save on his shot.
Stengs finds an opening
Stadium speaker Peter Houtman has just announced that three minutes of extra time will be added in the first half when Feyenoord gets a free kick about 25 meters from the goal. Calvin Stengs takes a short run-up before shooting it in like Pierre van Hooijdonk in his best days – although Stengs does it with his left hand.
Important detail: Feyenoord defender David Hancko cleverly steps out of the Celtic wall at the right time, bending down for the ball. Exactly the hole that Stengs finds, with a difficult bounce in the corner out of reach of goalkeeper Joe Hart.
The timing is ideal, shortly before halftime, after a first half in which Feyenoord is struggling. After just 50 seconds, coach Arne Slot gives the first clues, in response to Celtic’s high pressure on Feyenoord’s defense. It is Celtic that plays surprisingly easier football in the opening phase and pushes the home team back.
Feyenoord is having a hard time in the battle for midfield, especially Stengs and Quinten Timber. The latter loses the ball several times, sometimes does not see the free-standing man, and then runs into trouble. The exception is Mats Wieffer, who is often in between with his legs and is pure in his passing. He seems to have put his dip in form at the beginning of this season, when he regularly fought with the ball, behind him.
At the front we have to look for the right coordination. Due to the absence of Santiago Gimenez (suspended) and Ayase Ueda (injured), Feyenoord lacks a striker and therefore a point of contact. Now Igor Paixao and Yankuba Minteh alternately fill that position, supported from the left by Luka Ivanusec. Feyenoord hardly makes flowing attacks and does not create opportunities.
In a turbulent fifteen minutes in the second half, Feyenoord took control of the game, helped by clumsy, clumsy defending from the Scots. First Gustaf Lagerbielke gets his second yellow and therefore red when he hits Paixao in the neck while waving his right arm. The Brazilian attacker takes the penalty awarded poorly, Joe Hart stops. Paixao receives an encouraging tap on the back of the head from Slot when he is substituted shortly afterwards.
Five minutes later Celtic are down to nine men. This after a rash foul on Wieffer by Odin Thago Holm, who had recently come on. Geertruida, and with him the entire stadium, thinks he has scored from Stengs’ free kick, but after much deliberation the goal is disallowed due to offside. Moments later, substitute Alireza Jahanbakhsh makes the liberating 2-0, after he receives the ball on a silver platter via Ondrej Lingr and a Scottish forehead.
A setback for Feyenoord is the failure of the creative attacker Ivanusec, who is carried off the field on a stretcher with an injury to his ankle. The expectation is that he will be missing from the Classic against Ajax on Sunday, Slot said afterwards.
Although a great start in Europe, the disillusionment about the loss of one of the key players is noticeable in the remarkably quiet final minutes in De Kuip.
A version of this article also appeared in the September 20, 2023 newspaper.