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Watching a match tonight? Dedicated Dutchman Thomas Rensen will be – he's watching 31 games in 31 days across Europe...
When you hear Maribor and Slovenia, you might expect an old stadium full of grumpy people somewhere in a grey area of the former Yugoslavia Republic. OK, they play European football occasionally and even beat Hibs home and away this season – but that was because the Edinburgh side underestimated them, right?
No, it just isn’t true. Maribor's stadium is mainly very modern and good-looking. The nickname is ‘the wedding ring’ cause you have the old main stand (the crown) and the rest of the stadium which is build new and has a round roof in the shape of a wave (the ring).
There's the crown…
The plan is to rebuild the main stand as well, but well… like everywhere, they need money first. That’s why their European form was so important. They even won at home against Palermo, the biggest win for a Slovenian team since independence in 1991, but went out on aggregate.
Nor are there any grumpy people. The press chief is there to welcome me and gives me a club scarf. Someone from the Fan Store will watch the match with me, in the modern part of the stadium.
…and there's the ring
The match itself, a cup semi-final between Maribor and Koper, is full of incidents. Maribor striker Velikonja Etien, 22, may have a bright future: he's like a Slovenian Filippo Inzaghi… but without the goals. Three times he has one-on-ones with the goalkeeper, and he misses them all, including open goals. Then he scores the fourth for the game's only goal – and he's man of the match. Koper can only stop Etien with bookable offences, and suffer two red cards.
After the match I see Slovenia legend Zlatko Zahovic, now Maribor's sporting director and happy after the win. Maribor will probably win the double, so it's another step forward to getting a new main stand.
"We are all drunk on love of Maribor." And why not?
The next day, I'm off to Szolniki in Hungary. Again, you may expect an old stadium and grumpy people. Wrong again – well, partly. They have big plans for building a new stadium, but only a quarter of it is finished. Then there's the fans: just 500 in total. And they all eat bird seeds. It’s normal in Eastern Europe but it’s strange to me. The fans just talk and eat – there's no singing, no atmosphere. And it's a boring match as well.
So, a boring match, and it makes me miss Real Madrid v Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final. Oh well, I saw the Man United game the day before, so no complaints. Now I'm ready to see another match in my 18th (!!) country. I’m in Zurich now… and where are you?
Â© Lawrie CateHungary football in the city of Szolniki will be getting a new stadium at some point in the future, but at present only a quarter of it is finished. At the old stadium, there are a loyal group...
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