A full-debut goal for club-record signing Marko Arnautovic wasn’t enough to stop a resilient Werder Bremen side from lifting The Betway Cup for a second time in Lohne yesterday.
Bremen held a one-goal advantage from Friday night’s 1-0 victory heading into the tie that ended in a thrilling 2-2 draw. Slaven Bilic named a much stronger starting XI to the previous evening, the team included first starts for the likes of Marko Arnautovic and Joe Hart. The former started in-goal with fellow new-signing Pablo Zabaleta at right-back, Jose Fonte, and Angelo Ogbonna in the middle, and Arthur Masuaku at left-back. The midfield consisted of stand-in skipper Pedro Obiang, Josh Cullen, Edimilson Fernandes, Robert Snodgrass and Arnautovic, with former club-record signing Andre Ayew leading the line. However, it would be the far-stronger Bundesliga side who had the most joy in the early stages.
Despite the fact that The Germans would soon extend their aggregate lead to two goals, we pressured early and threatened from crosses on either flank via both Arthur Masuaku and Pablo Zabaleta. However, a controversial free-kick led to a superb header from former Inter Milan defender Luca Caldirola that flew past Hart and into the bottom corner to put SV ahead. Suddenly, with just 15 minutes on the clock, it looked like Alexandra Nouri’s men were running away with the trophy.
We hit straight back at the visitors shortly after they broke the deadlock, as Arnautovic went for goal from a good position, only to see his shot tipped over by Jiri Pavlenka in the Bremen net. Despite being denied originally by the Czech keeper, the former Stoke City winger soon beat him from close range. Arthur Masuaku made ground down the left and delivered a deflected cross into the near post, with Arnautovic nipping in front and stabbing the ball into the corner. The finish brought the scores level in the game, but Die Werderaner still led on aggregate, leaving us with an uphill task in the second-half.
Slaven Bilic’s men would start the second period in the same vein that the first-half ended in, with Fernandes firing just wide on 50 minutes. Controversially, Zhang Yuning, the man who would eventually go on to score the leveller for The Boys In Green, should have seen red for a horror challenge on Zabaleta that sparked a brawl between the two sides. On the hour-mark, Slaven Bilic made eight changes introducing Reece Burke, James Collins, Aaron Cresswell, Sam Byram, Declan Rice, Moses Makasi, Antonio Martinez and Nathan Holland. The changes almost made an instant impact, when the young Irish international Rice burst through, but he too saw his shot fly wide.
Young Spanish forward Toni Martinez lit up The PL2 last season with 12 goals, and would soon add his first under Slaven Bilic. A fantastic exchange between Ayew and Arnautovic on the left-side allowed the Ghanaian to cross from the byline, the delivery found the head of Martinez who finished accurately into the bottom corner. The aggregate scores were now level with 15 minutes left to play, after the brilliance of a future star in the making. However, it would be the team that were in their own backyard who would have the last laugh.
On-loan West Brom man Zhang became the centre of attention yet again with ten minutes to play, but this time for the right reasons. A superb low cross was met by the Chinese international in the six-yard box, and he kept his head to finish low past debutant Hart and clinch the vital equaliser for his side. The scores would stay level as the German side parked the bus to allow the fiery affair to fizzle out. As the referee blew his final whistle, Werder Bremen were crowned as The Betway Cup Champions for the second time in the history of the competition, after winning in 2015 at Upton Park by a slim one-goal margin.
So, with us losing The Betway Cup for the third consecutive time and going another year without even winning our own competition, the first disappointment of the season is upon us. However, we will have a chance to redeem ourselves in the final friendly of our trip to Germany against Altona 93 on Tuesday, before facing Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City on Friday in Iceland.
Hammers’ Man Of The Match: Marko Arnautovic