A storming start to the match and two goals from Vincenzo Grifo (7') and Ritsu Doan (15') in the opening 15 minutes saw SC Freiburg secure a 2-1 win against Azerbaijani side Qarabag FK in the first Europa League game of the season.
“We are back” read the banner presented by the Südtribüne before kick-off on Thursday evening, as SC returned to European competition for the first time in nine years against Qarabag. The match got underway with lots of energy on show, and Matthias Ginter was brought down in the penalty area following a cross by Grifo. Following a VAR review and a short trip to the pitchside monitor, Belgian referee Erik Lambrecht pointed to the spot. Grifo took the ball and fired the ball coolly into the bottom-left corner – 1-0 to SCF with just seven minutes on the clock.
As part of their pre-match show, the Freiburg fans also fired confetti cannons into the air, and you might describe their team’s start to the game as fireworks. Just two minutes after the opening goal, a cross fizzed in by Christian Günter found Doan ready to double the lead, but had too much time and overthought his attempt, failing to find the target.
Doan makes amends
Putting that missed chance behind him in double-quick time, Japanese international Doan found the net on the quarter-hour mark: cutting in from the right hand corner of the box, he unleashed a shot from 16 yards which flew into the far corner and left Qarabag goalkeeper Shakhrudin Magomedaliyev no chance.
Following the final whistle, Christian Streich said: “I expected the game to go exactly like this. We had a brilliant opening 20 minutes, but after 25 started losing the ball too easily.”
Qarabag grow into the game
Streich’s side losing the ball allowed the away side to fashion goalscoring chances after the half-hour mark. SC shot-stopper Mark Flekken was on hand to prevent a deficit-halving goal from Abdellah Zoubir as he fired towards goal from range (32’). That gave the 400 or so away fans, often drowned out by a sold-out home contingent, cause to get behind their team and generate some noise.
The Azerbaijani side’s fans pushed their team forward with vocal support, and got a reward just before the break: Maxi Eggestein was robbed of the ball inside his own 18-yard box, and it came out to Marko Vesovic, whose shot squirmed through the hands of Flekken for 2-1 (39’). The goal unsettled Freiburg’s back line for the rest of the half, but thankfully the whistle blew for the interval with no further goals.
Qarabag attackers cause problems
Both teams returned to the pitch without substitutions for the second half, and the away side restarted the game in much the same way they ended the opening 45 minutes. With less than two minutes since the start of the half, Kwabwena Owusu went through one-on-one with Flekken, but the goalkeeper was able to chest any danger away.
As the half went on, Matthias Ginter, who played on with a black eye following the early penalty incident, and his defensive teammates tried to bring some calmness to Freiburg’s play, but it did not come easily. Qarabag’s attackers caused the back line constant issues, with Owusu and Zoubir being particularly active.
It was tough for SCF for long periods of the second half. A Nils Petersen header and a curling effort from Grifo (64’, 68’) were the first chances for Streich’s men following the interval. In fact, the away side were the more dangerous: Flekken had to go full-stretch to deny Kady’s angled effort on 70 minutes.
A nerve-jangling end
Streich brought on Daniel-Kofi Kyereh and Michael Gregoritsch for fresh attacking impetus, but they were unable to change the flow of the game. Following a cross, Qarabag’s key man Zoubir missed two chances to equalise in quick succession, first with his head and then with a shot (81’).
As the long and hectic closing stages dragged on, Freiburg’s defence of the one-goal lead grew more and more passionate. “All things considered, it’s not an undeserved victory, because we worked very well off the ball. We’re very happy to have started with a win – it’ll do us a lot of good, and now we can look forward to a trip to Baku,” said head coach Christian Streich after full-time. The win sees SCF take joint top spot in Europa League group G, as FC Nantes also came through their home game against Greek side Olympiakos with a 2-1 victory.
This means SC Freiburg are top of two leagues at the moment, and attention will turn now to keeping first place in the Bundesliga table on Sunday. Christian Streich’s men take on Borussia Mönchengladbach at the Europa-Park Stadion. Kick-off is 17:30 CEST on Sunday.
Photo: Achim Keller
|SC Freiburg: Flekken - Sildillia, Ginter, Lienhart, Günter - Eggestein, Höfler - Doan (90+3', Keitel), Jeong (88', Weißhaupt), Grifo (71', Kyereh) - Petersen (71', Gregoritsch)|
|Head coach: Christian Streich|
|Unused substitutes: Uphoff, Atubolu, Siquet, Schmid, Kübler, Wagner, Schlotterbeck, Röhl|
|Qarabag FK: Magomedaliyev - Vesovic, Mustafazada, Hüseynov, Bayramov (90+2', Jafarguliyev) - Jankovic (84', Andrade), Garayev (76', Romao) - Kady - Sheydaev (76', Almeida), Zoubir - Owusu|
|Head coach: Gurban Gurbanov|
|Unused substitutes: Gugeshashvili, Ramazanov, Medvedev, Ibrahimli, Ozobic, Gurbanli, Hüseynov, Ahkundzade|
|Goals: 1-0 Grifo (7' Pen.), 2-0 Doan (15'), 1-2 Vesovic (39')|
|Yellow cards: Grifo, Doan - Gurbanov (Coach), Kwabena, Zoubir|
|Referee: Erik Lambrechts (Belgium)|