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Union Beat Freiburg to Stay in the Bundesliga


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1. FC Union Berlin secured their Bundesliga status with a dramatic 2-1 win over SC Freiburg. After Josip Juranović saw his first half penalty saved, benedict Hollerbach scored the opener for the hosts only for Ritsu Doan to Equalise with five minutes to play. But Janik Haberer slammed home the rebound from Kevin Volland’s penalty that had come back off the post four minutes into time added on.

1. FC Union Berlin:Rönnow –Trimmel, Doekhi, Knoche, Leite (62. Volland), Juranović (84. Jaeckel) –Tousart, Schäfer (62. Haberer) – Vertessen (62. Hollerbach), Aaronson (80. Laïdounï), Gosens 
SC Freiburg: Atubolu – Kübler, Keitel, Makengo – Doan, M. Eggestein, Höfler (82. Muslija), Günter (59. Weißhaupt) – Sallai (77. Philipp), Höler (59. Gregoritsch), Grifo 
The starting XI

For the final, crucial game of a long Bundesliga season, Marco Grote’s backline was the same as that he started last week against Köln. Frederik Rönnow, as ever, was in goal, behind Diogo Leite and Danilho Doekhi playing either side of Robin Knoche, starting for the second time in a row for the injured Kevin Vogt.

In midfield, Lucas Tousart replaced the suspended Rani Khedira alongside Andras Schäfer, while Josip Juranović switched flanks to play on the left, opposite captain Christopher Trimmel on the right.

Both Brenden Aaronson and Robin Gosens were given the space to take flight up top meanwhile, either side of Yorbe Vertessen.

Goals1-0 Hollerbach (68.), 1-1 Doan (85.), Haberer (90+2)

Attendance: 22,012

Juranović sees his penalty saved. Union fight on, but the half remains goalless

One of Union’s greatest myths is that of the miracle of Karl-Marx-Stadt, and how in 1988 Mario Maek scored at the death to prevent relegation on the last day of the season. This one will push it close in the annals of the club. It was remarkable.

But few would have thought it would have to come that far. Union started this game strongly, and full of confidence. Brenden Aaronson played a delightful flick behind his back to Robin Gosens who found Trimmel, who found Vertessen in the box. It was Vertessen who had the first shot after another piece of sharp build-up play from Aaronson shortly afterwards, but Noah Atubolu in Freiburg’s goal – and the man who came closest to ruining the home side’s day – saved it to his left with a certain ease.

But a banner the length of the Waldseite simply read, “Union never give up”, and it was recreated on the pitch. They were invoking the football Gods.

At the back Leite hit a beautiful ball out to Trimmel, cross-field, while Juranović swept up well before Ritsu Doan had the chance to take the ball in his stride. Knoche then did beautifully to bring a high ball down on the turn, killing it while leaving a befuddled Lucas Höler in his dust in the same deft move.

Gosens and Aaronson were showing off, both fantastic, all flicks and bursts. Another combination after seven minutes saw Yannik Keitel bring the former down as the latter sent him away down the inside right. Aaronson tackled Doan and Lukas Kübler in his own box, turning away from them and bursting 40 yards.

He has been in the form of his life and was determined to show the Unioner how good a player he really is. He robbed a snoozing Höfler and tried to set Vertessen off as he overlapped on the right; just as he tormented Höfler, cutting inside and out, the ball at his toe, charging up the middle again and again.

But they didn’t have things all their own way. Christian Streich, in his last ever game as a Bundesliga manager, has built too good a side for that, and Freiburg had their own chances. Frederik Rönnow stopped Maximilian Eggestein’s shot with his body after the midfielder had found a bit of space in the box after ten minutes. He then bent another with his left foot wide of Rönnow’s goal with almost 20 minutes played when he maybe should have at least hit the target.

The volume was deafening as Union dominated the pace, if not always the ball, especially when Trimmel sprung free up the right, finding Vertessen. Suddenly they were ayway, three against two, but his squared cross was too far ahead of Gosens and Aaronson as they entered the box at pace. Aaronson got crowded out after making another jinking run into the box, this time by a grateful Yannik Keitel as the American tried to get the ball out from under his feet to shoot.

Union were pushing up, Doekhi and Knoche taking turns to find themselves almost playing in midfield; Tousart was moving well into the Freiburg half, and it was the Frenchman who won another corner, having worked his way out to the right hand side.

But then, after 35 minutes, the volume was raised ever higher as Jordy Makengo handled the ball in his own box following Juranović’s clever ball up the line to Aaronson who switched it out to Gosens on the left, his cross, fast and dangerous. Play was waved on, but it was soon stopped as the decision went to the VAR.

And while Makengo got a yellow card, Juranović stood over the ball on the penalty spot as Atubolu danced on his goalline, moving left and right, bouncing, star-jumping, and the whistling reached jet engine piercing levels. The Croatian fullback waited and waited, took four steps back, and struck it well, but Atobolu saved superbly, diving to his left.

It was a bitter blow, but Union didn’t let their heads drop. Again, Aaronson attacked up the middle, and again he found Vertessen on the overlap, but this time the Belgian’s shot was put wide. Then the whole Union bench was up as Christian Günter caught Vertessen in the head, high kicking like a show dancer when under pressure of another Union break.

Scores elsewhere were going Union’s way, but still they needed a goal.

Hollerbach finds the top corner. Haberer finds the Unioner’s hearts.

The players came out early enough to take to the pitch as the Prodigy’s Firestarter was still bellowing through the speakers. The crowd again would soon enough overtake even that din, as Union, with no changes from Marco Grote, started attacking towards the Waldseite, their heartland, with Aaronson and Gosens continuing where they’d left off down the left-hand side. Juranović launched a couple of early, typically towering throw-ins into the Freiburg box.

At the other end, meanwhile, Trimmel did well to stop Höler in his tracks, and Rönnow held the header from the ensuing corner with his usual lack of fuss. Knoche got a yellow card for a trip on Doan, the ball five yards out of Union’s box to the left, but then Eggestein got the same for his trip on Schäfer as Union broke straight back up the opposite wing.

From the free kick, Keitel did well to get in ahead of Vertessen, the ball flashing across the box from the resulting throw.

Bu then came a bit of pressure from the guests as all hands were to the Union pumps. Vincenzo Grifo’s shot struck Knoche in the box, Eggestein’s was deflected wide a second or two later.

Then, with an hour played, Leite went down after a sickening blow, the physio immediately signalling to the bench that he’d need to come off. In his place came Kevin Volland, as Union went to four at the back, joined by Benedict Hollerbach and Janik Haberer, on for Vertessen and Schäfer.

Trimmel was leading by example, his yellow card for a shoulder barge on Noah Weißhaupt seeming harsh at best. But it was the youngsters, Hollerbach and Aaronson who would carve out Union’s lead. Aaronson picked the ball up from Doekhi at the base of midfield, moving it forwards to Hollerbach. He chipped the ball over the top, where his partner laid it off immediately back for Hollerbach to curl an unstoppable shot into the top corner with his left.

The roof came off the Alte Försterei. It was visceral, vivid; a wall of explosive sound. Hollerbach was almost dumbstruck after the final whistle, when he said how he had “never felt such a thing.”

And Union poured onto their guests, Tousart shooting at Atubolo from the edge of the box five minutes later, and when Freiburg had the ball with Makengo, Volland chased him half the pitch to sniff out the danger.

Aaronson’s final act was another brilliant run up the middle, setting Hollerbach away on the right, before he was replaced by Aissa Laïdouni.

Freiburg pushed forwards and it took another brilliant header from Knoche to deny Michael Gregoritsch before Trimmel threw himself at another ball down by the byline. Union broke again, this time with Laïdouni, and he found Hollerbach, but it took another good stop from Atubolu to deny him, standing up as Union’s impish striker shot from the left.

Laïdouni was in the thick of things, and tore forwards, getting bundled over by Makengo as he neared the box. It looked a certain foul, but play was waved on, and the Alte Försterei was reduced to a boiling, seething mass as Doan headed home from Freiburg’s immediate break down the left.

Suddenly Union were back in danger. They needed another goal.

As seven minutes added on were held up Trimmel stroked another free kick into the box, to see Doekhi hauled down. Again, the referee pointed to the spot. The tension was unbearable.

This time Volland stepped up, but again Atubolu guessed right, diving to his left, tipping the ball onto the post. There was a sudden, deathly silence. But Janik Haberer was first onto the rebound and slammed the ball home with voiolent, raging intention. 94 minutes had been played. It was almost – if you don’t know your history – unbelievable.

There was still time for a shaky moment at the back, but Rönnow would throw himself onto the ball, calmness personified. But everywhere else was chaos. As Hollerbach was prone on the ground and play already stopped, Laïdouni and Grifo carried on, tussling, their backs to the paused action, unaware entirely. Laïdouni got a yellow, Volland got a yellow, Doekhi headed clear, Knoche headed clear.

But when the final whistle finally came, almost ten minutes after the 90th minutes, the cries and the cheers of the Alte Försterei were unimaginable.

Grote was beaming from ear to ear as he finally spoke after the final whistle. “When such an emotional game ends like this, you can only be incredibly happy for all Union players at that moment. It speaks volumes that we conceded the equaliser shortly before the end of the season, but then fought for the second goal.”

Like the fabled side of 1988 and the miracle of Karl Marx Stadt, they had survived at the last.

Union Beat Freiburg to Stay in the Bundesliga
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