The game’s decisive moment came on 41 minutes, or, as Christian Streich diplomatically described it: “That situation. It was, of course, a difficult situation.”
On this special evening, SCF were tasked with keeping their patience. The Bianconeri sat deep and did not offer much in the way of active attacking intent. The away side only ventured into Freiburg’s penalty area once in the opening stages, as Juan Cuadrado appealed for a penalty under pressure from Christian Günter (19’). Dutch referee Serdar Gözübüyük was unmoved, however.
At the other end, the first shot in anger came from Ritsu Doan. Even though the Japan international’s effort was a good two yards off target, the home fans roared their support from the stands. This was a noisy evening at the Europa-Park Stadion – very noisy. Another cause for raucous support came with 22 minutes on the clock, as Günter’s corner found the head of Matthias Ginter in the box. Juve goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny managed to get his fingertips on the effort and parry away.
There had been one change to the starting XI in comparison to the SCF team which beat TSG Hoffenheim late on in the Bundesliga at the weekend, as Kiliann Sildillia replaced Vincenzo Grifo – Streich and his coaching staff set the team up in a back-three formation. The thigh injury which Philipp Lienhart suffered in the first leg did not heal in time for him to make the squad for this game. “It took a while until we knew how we wanted to do things,” said the head coach after full-time. “We made the right choice. We were brave and really went for it.”
Juventus goal chalked off
In their last Serie A game, a 4-2 home win against Sampdoria, Juventus did not show too much of their defensive mettle. In contrast to that game on Sunday evening, the injured Federico Chiesa and Angel Di María returned to the squad, whilst Paul Pogba missed out entirely with an adductor injury.
The 27-year-old French World Cup winner would have been celebrating in front of his TV at home, if he was watching, after 27 minutes – as did the 2,000 or so Italian fans in the corner of the stadium. A long ball sent in from a free-kick on the left found Bremer, whose header hit the underside of the crossbar – Dušan Vlahović left SC ‘keeper Mark Flekken no chance on the rebound. After a VAR check, though, that joy in the away end turned to frustration, as the referee’s hand went up for offside: Bremer was ever so slightly in an illegal position. Flekken then did very well to deny Moise Kean in a one-on-one in the 41st minute, before Ginter cleared off the line.
That moment would prove disastrous for the home side. After already being booked for a foul, Manuel Gulde was judged to have handled the ball in the area and was shown a second yellow card. The resulting penalty was dispatched, with a hefty slice of luck, by Vlahović for 1-0. In first-half stoppage time, Adrien Rabiot almost doubled the advantage, but the score stayed as it was at the interval.
Gregoritsch almost scores a magical goal
Maxi Eggestein was replaced at half-time for Kenneth Schmidt, making his first-team debut. The SCF academy graduate was almost able to join his team in celebration on the pitch for the first time, but Michael Gregoritsch’s powerful free-kick from fully 30 yards flashed centimetres past the net. “What a performance from the team in the second half! I can’t tell you what might have happened if we’d equalised,” Streich praised his players.
Despite the man’s advantage, the 1995/96 Champions League winners continued to sit deep, and were lucky that after 57 minutes, Günter’s free-kick was unable to be converted by either Gregoritsch or Lucas Höler.
Freiburg pressed and played ever further forward, as the coaching staff threw everything they could at Juventus in terms of attacking options. Sadly, neither Grifo, Roland Sallai, Noah Weißhaupt nor Nils Petersen could create a goalscoring opportunity, At the other end, Juventus substitute Federico Chiesa was denied by both the crossbar and an excellent Flekken reaction save to keep the score at 1-0. In the fifth minute of added time at the end of the match, though, Chiesa found the net with the help of the post to make it 2-0 and secure Juve’s passage to the quarter finals.
Despite that second goal and the final whistle confirming SCF’s elimination, there was no stopping the appreciation and applause from the fans to the players. The sold-out Europa-Park Stadion honoured their team’s efforts and performances with a long-lasting ovation.
Focus will now return to the Bundesliga, as Freiburg take on 1. FSV Mainz 05 on Sunday evening (19:30 CET). After that, there will be a two-week international break for some players to rest and regenerate.
Photo: Stephan Eckenfels