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Seconds short of victory in Mainz

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Following a tough UEFA Europa League exit to Juventus during the week, SC headed to in-form 1. FSV Mainz 05 in the Bundesliga on Sunday evening. Bo Svensson’s side had won each of their last four home games, and have been the league’s third-best side in the second half of the season. It was Freiburg, who incidentally sit fourth in those charts, that had the first opening in the final game of matchday 25. Kiliann Sildillia was denied from close range by Robin Zentner after five minutes, however.

There was just one change to the team that had given the Italian record champions a run for their money on Thursday, with Vincenzo Grifo coming into the starting line-up in place of Lucas Höler.

Ludovic Ajorque has been leading the line for FSV since his arrival January, and his 1.95 metres of aerial power adds to Mainz’s already serious threat in the air, having netted nine headed goals already this season. The tall Frenchman was kept out by a fine reflex save from Mark Flekken in the ninth minute though. Ajourque did have the ball in the back of the net a short while late, but the flag had gone up for offside.

First-half chances at a premium 

SC enjoyed more of the ball in the opening 45, although they often struggled to get to grips with the newly laid turf in the Mewa Arena. Sometimes there was too much punch on the pass, other times an untimely slip cost possession. The visitors ultimately mustered only two shots by half time.
Defensively though, Christian Streich’s side looked solid, something which isn’t to be taken for granted against Mainz, as the coach commented after the game: “They have serious strength and power, and bring so much energy to the pitch. If you didn’t put up all the resistance you can, you’d be eaten alive. Fortunately, the team did do that.”

The hosts were more direct with the ball, yet the header from Ajorque remained the only clear-cut opening for Svensson’s team. There was a Marcus Ingvartsen free-kick from around 30 yards that tested Flekken (37’), but the sides went into the break goalless.

Gregoritsch flicks on, Doan finishes

Long balls had been the go-to approach already for SC in the first half, with Michael Gregoritsch so often the target. It was that route that brought about the opening goal after 55 minutes as well. The Austrian jumped to flick on a long ball, and with Edimilson Fernandes and Robin Zentner hesitant, Ritsu Doan stole in to round the keeper and slot in the opener.

The goal changed the intensity of the game significantly. Anton Stach (58’) and Vincenzo Grifo (62’) both missed narrowly with long-range efforts. The match didn’t develop into a scrappy affair though, even though Mainz are known for a more robust playing style, averaging 13 fouls per game, with the 26,800 spectators in the Mewa Arena witnessing a fair battle.

Bo Svensson looked for ways to haul his side back on terms, already using all five of his substitutions after 75 minutes. The only Freiburg change by that point had seen Lucas Höler come on for Grifo.

Threatening from throw-ins

One of the home side’s fresh pair of legs belong to just 18-year-old Nelson Weiper. The young German striker had a golden opportunity to level the scores in the 85th minute, but his shot from twelve yards following a throw-in was straight at Flekken. Mainz’s final throw-in of the match – 20 seconds after the allotted five minutes of added time were up – did produce the leveller, however. Ajorque held the ball up and found another substitute, Karim Onisiwo, who slammed home from inside the six-yard box to make it 1-1.

Even though the equaliser came painfully late, a point still takes SC above RB Leipzig and into fourth with nine matchdays to go. “I can’t be all that unhappy when the team is able to produce a performance like that three days after losing to Juventus. We have taken a point against a very strong Mainz side,” said Streich.

After the international break, SC Freiburg return to action on Saturday, 1st April with a home game against Hertha BSC (15:30 CEST)

Photo: Achim Keller

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Seconds short of victory in Mainz

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