1. FC Union Berlin gave their fans another magical evening in the sold-out Alte Försterei and made it into the round of 16 in the Europa League against Ajax Amsterdam. In front of their frenetic crowd, the capital city-dwellers won 3-1 (2-0) against the Dutch record champions on Thursday evening in the most important European game in the club’s history.
Robin Knoche (20th minute, hand penalty), Josip Juranovic (44th) and Danilho Doekhi (50th) scored in the second leg of the second round in front of 21,800 fans for coach Urs Fischer’s team. The guests were the game-determining team, but the Köpenickers showed themselves ice-cold when taking advantage of their chances against the most famous opponent in their European Cup history. For the Dutch only Mohammed Kudus (47th) could shorten in the meantime. Ajax professional Edson Alvarez saw the yellow-red card in the heated stoppage time (90. 7).
After the 0-0 in the first leg, the Berlin team, who are still unbeaten this year, are in the round of 16, where FC Arsenal, Feyenoord Rotterdam and Fenerbahce Istanbul are among the possible opponents. The draw will take place on Friday (12 noon) in Nyon, Switzerland.
The iron ones don’t have much time to celebrate and dream. Already on Sunday (5.30 p.m., DAZN) the next important game for the third-placed team in the Bundesliga title fight is at Bayern Munich, who are tied on points.
The anticipation of the game was even more noticeable in Köpenick than usual. Two hours before kick-off, long queues formed in front of the stadium gates in the drizzle. “When the dream comes true, life becomes intoxication” was written on a large banner of the Union fans. In addition, the championship trophy, the DFB Cup and the trophy of the Europa League were shown. Smoke from pyrotechnics wafted through the stadium from both sides around the kick-off.
The coaches only changed their teams in one position compared to the first leg. Fischer replaced Morten Thorsby with Janik Haberer, who was suspended in Amsterdam. Former Bremen player Davy Klaassen started at Ajax.
The guests presented themselves as more mobile and variable. They showed their playful class especially towards the end of the first half. The Berliners, on the other hand, seemed a bit nervous at the beginning. Simple bad passes crept in. The team withdrew deep at times and let Ajax have the ball. But chances remained rare for the Dutch. In a period of pressure just before the break, the home side were lucky as Kudus was caught offside in the 43rd minute when he slotted the ball in.
The Irons showed their typical qualities: combative, disciplined and again efficient in front of goal, as Fischer emphasized as necessary before the game. After a corner, Danilho Doekhi headed the ball into Clavin Bassey’s hand. Knoche converted the penalty, even though world champion Gerónimo Rulli touched the ball in the Ajax goal.
The luck of the competition that Fischer had promised was also on the side of the hosts. Rulli should have blocked Juranovic’s shot from the edge of the penalty area just before the break. It was the Croatian’s first goal in Union dress.
The irons immediately countered the connection hit by Kudus, who sent the ball into the goal after a cross from the left. Doekhi headed in from a Juranovic corner. The 24-year-old Dutchman, who played for Ajax at youth level, has scored the fifth header this season, his first in the Europa League.
Ajax increased the pressure. After a nice combination, Kudus missed free-standing in front of Frederik Rönnow (62nd). The Berliners counterattacked. Sheraldo Becker failed twice at Rulli (70th/85th). Then it was over – and huge cheers in the south-east of the capital.
“What you experience here is unbelievable. We put our hearts on the pitch and deserved to win here,” said Union professional Rani Khedira on RTL: “If we get our team spirit on the pitch, then we’re hard to beat. We just enjoy this moment, no one would have dreamed of that before the season started.” Team colleague Robin Knoche added: “Of course we are overjoyed. You can see that the team is developing step by step. It’s just fun at the moment.”
And master builder Fischer, usually rather reserved, said: “It really doesn’t get any better. I’m not just proud of the team. We can all be proud of ourselves. The team showed a willingness today, a will, that mentality that is needed. We were very lucky. When I think about where we were after the first two group games. And now we qualify for the round of 16. This is madness, really.”
Intermediate round, second leg:
FC Nantes – *Juventus Turin 0:3 (0:2)
FC Midtjylland – *Sporting Lisbon 0:4 (0:1)
AS Monaco – *Bayer Leverkusen 3:5 i.E. (1:2, 2:3, 2:3)
PSV Eindhoven – *FC Sevilla 2:0 (0:0)
*Manchester United – FC Barcelona 2:1 (0:1)
*1. FC Union Berlin – Ajax Amsterdam 3:1 (2:0) 0:0
*AS Rom – RB Salzburg 2:0 (2:0)
Stade Rennes – *Shakhtar Donetsk 4: 5 on penalties (0: 0, 1: 0, 2: 1)
* Match winners