After a committed performance at Ajax Amsterdam, 1. FC Union Berlin can dream more than ever of reaching the round of 16 of the Europa League. The Bundesliga runners-up came to a 0-0 draw in the first leg of the second round.
In front of 55,585 spectators, coach Urs Fischer’s team, unbeaten this year, improved as the season went on and made the offensive of the Dutch record champions look harmless for long stretches. The decision will be made in the second leg next Thursday in Berlin.
The Union Party had started well before the game on Dam Square, the central square of the Dutch capital. Around 2,600 Berlin fans cheered on in the Johan Cruyff Arena, and pyrotechnics were ignited again and again. However, the enthusiasm did not really transfer to the lawn at first. Both teams started with commitment but struggled to create any meaningful chances. Jérôme Roussillon’s shot (34′) was the guests’ first reasonably good opportunity – and missed.
Fischer had demanded the understandable “let go of nervousness” from his players shortly before kick-off on RTL, and they succeeded just before the break. Josip Juranovic made the next dangerous move, and Ajax goalkeeper Gerónimo Rulli saved (40′). The top Dutch club, which was difficult to assess before the game with new coach John Heitinga, was not in the game at all at the time.
The offensive Amsterdam key players Steven Bergwijn and Dusan Tadic had the Bundesliga professionals well under control in the first half. Fischer trusted almost the same starting XI that defeated RB Leipzig in the top Bundesliga game last Saturday. Danilho Doekhi and Sheraldo Becker were able to experience their return to their former club from the start. Morten Thorsby replaced the suspended Janik Haberer and Roussillon for Niko Gießelmann.
After the change, Heitinga brought ex-Bundesliga professional Brian Brobbey into play as another offensive force. The hosts got a little more active. Mohammed Kudus failed to hit a header from a promising position (53′). Union remained the more dangerous team. Rulli saved a free kick from Juranovic (56′) and a header from Thorsby (57′).
The supposed lead by the Norwegian in the 65th minute was taken back because of a handball when receiving the ball after the video referee checked it – to relieved cheers from the Amsterdam crowd. In the final phase, Ajax got a little stronger again, but the Fischer team held back.