It took nine corners before the Europa-Park Stadion could erupt into celebration. Lukas Kübler scored an injury-time equaliser against the brave Olympiacos defence to make it 1-1, which was a fitting end to a much improved second-half performance from SCF.
In contrast to the starting XI that beat Werder Bremen 2-0 last Saturday, Freiburg returned to a four-at-the-back system. Lukas Kübler started at right-back, and Kiliann Sildillia moved to the bench in place of Ritsu Doan.
In what was an even and lively start to the game, the Greek side got their first decent chance to shoot after just 50 seconds, as Giorgios Masouras’ fired well over Mark Flekken’s goal from 15 yards out.
“We’d watched some Olympiacos games. They had success playing as two banks of four and did well in the tight space. We weren’t as tidy as we needed to be in those situations – and then we went behind,” analysed head coach Christian Streich.
The 1,400 travelling Olympiacos fans saw their side perform much better than in their 3-0 defeat in the return fixture, taking the lead in the 17th minute. A flat cross from the right was met by Pep Biel – Flekken saved the initial effort, but captain Youssef El-Arabi gave the Dutchman no chance on the rebound.
Masouras misses a huge chance for 2-0
The hosts searched for an instant response but were almost caught out from their own corner. Garry Rodrigues led the Olympiacos counter-attack, picking out teammate running Giorgios Masouras with a perfect pass. The left winger curled it past the onrushing Flekken, but he wasn’t able to keep his shot down from seven yards out (23’).
After 35 minutes, SCF were yet to register a single shot on goal, and Niclas Höfler had to come to Flekken’s rescue to prevent Youssef El-Arabi, who was in a more than advantageous position, from doubling Olympiacos’ advantage. The play then immediately went up to the other end, as the home side got the ball into a threatening area for the first time in the match. Daniel-Kofi Kyereh missed from Grifo’s cross by a hair’s breadth (36’). The score at half-time was 1-0, and considering the events of the first half, it was a result SCF could live with.
Kübler fails to beat Paschalakis
An unchanged Freiburg side came out for the second half, but did so with much more energy. Skipper Christian Günter might have won a penalty in the 54th minute when his shirt was clearly pulled in the penalty box. However, Estonian referee Kristo Tohver didn’t think it was anything out of the ordinary and let play continue.
Four minutes later, Günter picked out Nicolas Höfler, who scored a header in the reverse fixture, at the near post, but Alexandros Paschalakis came out on top on this occasion. The keeper was called into action shortly afterwards, brilliantly keeping out Lukas Kübler’s effort from seven yards (59’). This was something SCF were unfortunately going to have to get used to.
Freiburg were on top of things now and made three changes just past the hour mark: Maximilian Eggestein, Noah Weißhaupt and Wooyeong Jeong came on for Yannik Keitel, Ritsu Doan and Daniel-Kofi Kyereh. Egged on by the 33,600 in attendance, Freiburg paid an increasing number of visits to the Olympiacos penalty area. In a promising position, Michael Gregoritsch couldn’t quite sort his feet out (70’), then Vincenzo Grifo’s curling effort was saved by Paschalakis (71’).
SCF find late, late equaliser
Only SCF were interested in playing for the final 15 minutes. Paschalakis remained in fine form, keeping out efforts from substitute Nils Petersen (78’) and Matthias Ginter (81’) in spectacular fashion. The ball simply didn’t want to go in, no matter how many attempts Grifo & Co. had. Most of the fans in the ground already had their arms in the air in the 88th minute after Freiburg took their seventh corner, Nils Petersen flicked the corner on to the back post, and Wooyeong Jeong went to turn it in, but his attempt was saved by the Greek goalkeeper from four yards out.
“It was one wave after the other,” said Christian Streich. “The team showed superb mentality, it was excellent.” The head coach could summarise the game in this way thanks to his side scoring from a set-piece, one of their real strengths.
In the second minute of stoppage time, and from their ninth corner of the game, Lukas Kübler nodded in Christian Günter’s cross to make it 1-1. Maximilian Eggestein (90’+2) and Kiliann Sildillia (90’+5) even had chances to secure all three points in what was a spectacular end to the game was, which even saw Ousseynou Ba receive a red card (90’+6). Full time shortly followed, and all in all, it was a fair result. Second-placed Qarabag lost 2-1 away to FC Nantes tonight, which means SC Freiburg will travel to Azerbaijan for their final group stage match as confirmed Group G winners, which secures them direct qualification to the round of 16 of the Europa League.
Photos: Achim Keller