It was not just the number of journalists present at the press conference ahead of the last 16 clash that made clear how special this meeting is for SC Freiburg. As well as media representatives from Italy, there were also press teams from Japan and Austria in the depths of the Euro-Park Stadion. Michael Gregoritsch, sitting next to Christian Streich at the press conference, was also looking forward to the game. The 28-year-old suggested that Juventus are still clear favourites for the second leg, but “it’s nice that we have the opportunity to turn the game around and get through.”
There is also a lot of respect from SC’s opponents. Immediately after the game, Juventus‘ head coach Massimiliano Allegri, said, “We won against a strong opponent. The game in Germany will not be easy.” Midfielder Manuel Locatelli added to this: “We will need a mature performance in Freiburg to get through to the next round.”
The Italian record champions beat bottom-placed Sampdoria 4-2 in Serie A on Sunday, throwing away a 2-0 lead before then scoring twice in the last half an hour to guarantee the win. Paul Pogba, who celebrated his 30th birthday this Wednesday, will not make the journey to Freiburg. Federico Chiesa and Angel di Maria were also not in the squad for the league game on Sunday.
SC head coach Christian Streich was asked by an Italian journalist at the press conference what di Maria potentially missing the game would mean for his team. “You never know what’s going to happen when a player like di Maria is on the pitch,” said Streich, “He makes any team better. It will be nice if he can play because then the fans in Freiburg will be able to watch him play. When a player like that isn’t able to play it’s a shame for football – but also, we won’t be complaining!”
Question marks over Philipp Lienhart
Barring Höler’s disallowed goal in the second half, SC had limited chances during the 1-0 defeat at the Allianz Stadium in Turin. During the 2-1 win against Hoffenheim on Sunday, the team set up with a back-four rather than a back-three. “The one system works better defensively. Against Hoffenheim, we played a 4-2-3-1 because we wanted to have a man more on the pitch in attack. There are always positives and negatives, so I am not 100% certain myself,” said Streich.
Streich added that not all decisions had yet been made on the team. Philipp Lienhart went off injured during the game in Turin and missed the entirety of the game against Hoffenheim. The SC head coach described his situation saying, “He trained with the team, is being treated again today and we will then make a final decision. It is a make-or-break moment, but perhaps it will be enough.”
Home advantage could play a deciding role
Regardless of team news and the system, Christian Streich, who along with his coaching staff extended his contract at the beginning of the week, is demanding high amounts of concentration during Thursday evening’s crucial meeting. “We can’t give away the ball in dangerous areas like in the first leg, where we were caught on the counter three times in the last 20 minutes.”
The anticipation ahead of the game was palpable for all those at the Euro-Park Stadion. “We have to do everything to get the stadium behind us and then you know what football’s like. Football is impossible to predict. Anything other than Juventus getting through would be an enormous surprise. We will give it a go,” said Streich.
Michael Gregoritsch also described “an enormous excitement in the whole city”, before continuing: “We have to be competitive in challenges from the first minute and win them, then we will get the fans behind us.” Should they succeed, the supporters at the Europa-Park Stadion on Thursday evening could bare witness to a Freiburg team making it through to the quarter-finals of European competition for the very first time.
photo: Achim Keller