More than a few away fans, travelling to Turin to cheer on their team, were able to enjoy the spring sunshine in Italy’s fourth-largest city. Sights to see included the Duomo, the many beautiful old streets, and the view from the Monte dei Cappuccini. On every street corner and square were Freiburg fans, happily chatting, singing and getting along well. As the spectators entered Juventus Stadium, the strolls around town were replaced with high-intensity work, as the teams came out to warm up. They were accompanied by a fancy light show for the home side, whilst the near 2000-strong away support made themselves heard long before kick-off.
No changes to the starting XI
The Freiburg coaching staff chose the same team which faced Borussia Mönchengladbach on Sunday for the fixture with the Italian record champions. Christian Streich and co. were without the ill Wooyeong Jeong for the first leg, whilst Michael Gregoritsch, who missed the game against the Foals, was named on the bench in Turin.
Juventus head coach Massimiliano Allegri had removed Paul Pogba from the squad at short notice on disciplinary grounds. The home side made one change from their most recent fixture against AS Roma, as Fabio Miretti replaced Nicolo Fagioli in midfield. Allegri set his side up in a 3-5-1-1 formation.
Freiburg hold their own
This game was the first appearance in a Europa League knockout game in Freiburg’s history. Some nervousness for the occasion and the storied name of the home side, then, might be expected: not so. The SCF front three were keeping Juventus pinned within 35 yards of their own goal, but made the decision to keep control in the game and avoided taking risks.
The first moment of peril for the Freiburg defence came after 13 minutes. A perfect through ball from Di María found Adrien Rabiot in the penalty area, but his near-post effort was just denied by Mark Flekken’s trailing leg. The Dutch goalkeeper was also equal to Juan Cuadrado’s curling free-kick six minutes later.
By the mid-point of the first half, the home favourites were on top and showing their individual class, creating dangerous chances, but at the same time having to weather some Freiburg counters. Even though the away team’s attacks were often very well-created and precise, the front line did not create much in the way of goalscoring chances.
After a goalless 45 minutes where their team showed good mettle and defensive resilience, the away support applauded them off. “It was clear that Juve would give it their all and be very focused. We played against a very, very strong opposition today, and the lads gave their all,” praised Streich after full-time.
The Italians were unhappy with the scores level, though, and Allegri made a change at half time, bringing in Fagioli for Miretti. Juventus came out of the interval with a point to prove, and created dangerous attacks through crosses into Flekken’s penalty area. One of these was provided by Filip Kostić, whose pinpoint delivery found Di María – he powered a header into the roof of the net to make it 1-0 to Juventus on 53 minutes.
Höler’s equaliser disallowed
Having taken the lead, the Bianconeri started to sit deeper and deeper, allowing Freiburg space to foray forward. They sought to lock down the defence, but SCF made a breakthrough on 62 minutes with what they thought was an equaliser. On the turn, Lucas Höler found the far corner with a fine finish, but referee Tasos Sidiropoulis was sent to the VAR monitor. In the end, it was judged that Matthias Ginter, despite his hands being tucked within his bodyline, had handled the ball in knocking it down for the goalscorer – that meant, harshly from a Freiburg point of view, that the goal was chalked off.
Shortly after that disappointment, it was double hardship for Freiburg, as Philipp Lienhart was forced off through injury, Manuel Gulde replacing him with just over 20 minutes to go. Despite the setbacks, it was the away side who kept on the front foot, restricting Juventus to counter attacks. A Vincenzo Grifo free-kick from 20 yards whistled just over the bar on 77 minutes.
Despite the hard work, the scoreline did not change – after five minutes added time, the referee blew his final whistle. Despite defeat, the Freiburg away fans let their feelings be heard from the stands: dressed all in white, the away end celebrated their team’s strong performance for several minutes.
With one goal’s deficit, the door is still very much open for SCF to make a comeback in the second leg and turn things around. The second leg, at the Europa-Park Stadion, will kick off against the Bianconeri next Thursday at 18:45 CET. “All things considered, the scoreline is correct, but we have the second leg and will do all we can to create some headlines at the end of the day,” said Streich after the final whistle.
Photo: Achim Keller