Incredible comeback to reach the last 16

First Team

SC Freiburg showed their comeback qualities yet again to seal their place in the Europa League round of 16. They turned a two-goal deficit around to win 3-2 (AET) against RC Lens, thanks to a Roland Sallai brace and a Michael Gregoritsch extra-time winner.

“It’s a match for the ages.” Michael Gregoritsch’s post-match analysis was short, sharp and spot on. The fans welcomed the team onto the pitch with a brilliant tifo that spread over the entire Südtribune. Merlin Röhl was part of the SCF attack that would, somewhat unusually, begin the game playing towards that end, but they did fashion the first shooting chance of the game after three minutes, as Rolland Sallai’s volley from 20 yards flew well over the goal. Kiliann Sildillia lined up in defence, taking the place of Yannick Keitel, who was out with a calf injury. He and his defensive colleagues had to be alert at the back, as the home side saw more of the ball in the opening phases without creating any real opportunities.

Hardly any chances, but then the guests strike twice

It was only at the half-hour mark that the game would open up, as the French side grew into the match. There weren’t any signs of danger for SCF, but when Noah Atubolu unfortunately fumbled the ball from a cross into the box, David Pereira Da Costa was in the right place to punish the young goalkeeper and make it 1-0 to Lens from 14 yards out in the 28th minute. It wasn’t necessarily a goal that had been coming, because goal-scoring opportunities had been few and far between. It was also a set piece that almost led to a Freiburg equaliser. Sallai’s cross into the box was flicked on by Nicolas Höfler onto Jonathan Granit’s chest, and the ball subsequently flew onto the post, before Höfler’s attempt on the rebound was saved by Lens keeper Brice Samba (33’).

With their recent comeback against Eintracht Frankfurt at the weekend firmly in their minds, SCF pressed their opponents in search of an equaliser. A corner in the 40th minute missed Sildillia’s head by a whisker and then went through Samba’s fingers, who could count himself lucky that a goal kick was then awarded. It would then be with their second chance of the game in the 45th minute that the French side would find the net again. The ball unfortunately bounced off Manuel Gulde’s back during an aerial contest, and Elye Wahi had lots of room in which to pick his spot, as he outwitted Atubolu with a chipped effort to make it 2-0.

Unrest and disbelief

Noah Weißhaupt and Michael Gregoritsch were brought on for the second half, as Freiburg continued their efforts to get back in the tie. A quick goal will keep Freiburg well within the tie. Lukas Kübler was the first to come close in the 51st minute, as his fiery long-range effort flew off target. With a two-goal lead, the French side didn’t feel like playing an active role in the game anymore. All they were looking for was opportunities to counter.

SCF were missing the final pass and the necessary precision around their opponent’s penalty area. The Freiburg players, staff and fans were all left in disbelief in the 61st minute when Merlin Röhl knocked it round his opposite man in the Lens penalty area and was then cleaned out. The referee awarded a goal kick, with the decision then checked and confirmed by VAR. The referee’s decisions caused for much unrest in the game, and the yellow cards were stacking up.

Sallai’s efforts are rewarded

All of a sudden, everything seemed possible again. Right in the middle of this heated phase of the game, Sallai got Freiburg back into the tie with a powerful finish from nine yards out (67’). Just two minutes after his goal, a Lens defender slid to intercept Sallai’s cross into the box towards Ritsu Doan, who was lingering in the visitors’ penalty area. SCF were on top and could taste an equaliser. Doan’s effort was saved well by Samba, and then Gregoritsch came close with two headers (73’, 76’). Apart from two or three counters launched by the away side, the game was only being played in one direction.

Gregoritsch tested Samba once again in the 90th minute, but the keeper came out on top once again and tipped the ball over the crossbar. What followed was a short burst of total ecstasy, and this was all thanks to Sallai’s second goal of the night. SCF were back on level terms, as the ball somehow found the net from twelve yards. There was even a chance for Freiburg to complete the comeback within normal time as the last chance of the game fell to Gregoritsch. Unfortunately, none of the Austrian’s second-half headers wanted to nestle in the back of the Lens net. Therefore, it went to extra time, and deservedly so.

Gregoritsch gives Freiburg the lead

SCF made a good start to extra time: they remained proactive, aggressive, and were the team that undoubtedly wanted to find a third goal. And they would go on to do this, as Gregoritsch got his reward for his efforts since coming on. Sallai muscled the Lens defender off the ball in the box and it fell to Gregoritsch, who tapped into an empty net (99’). From 2-0 down, SC Freiburg now led 3-2. “We changed things up at half time and then really got into our groove,” Streich was pleased with the alterations made at the break.

Wesley Said went on a mazy solo run, gaining lots of ground and fashioning himself a chance from a tight angle, which called Atubolu into action. But, the keeper stayed strong and was equal to the shot (104’). The first few minutes of the second half of extra time belonged to Lens, as Atubolu decided to first parry the ball as it skipped off the slippery surface, before securing the ball into his grasp (111’). The home side were tiring (understandably so given the remarkable comeback and the strong mentality on display tonight), which meant that only two players were getting involved in any attacks at this point, rather than the ten there had been previously. Defending became the hosts’ top priority, but they did everything right, and were rewarded with a place in the last 16 of the Europa League. Freiburg’s opponents in the next round will be announced as early as Friday in Nyon. The matches will take place on the 7th and 14th March, and SCF will play the first leg at home.

The fans rightfully celebrated the win together with the team, capping off a spectacular evening at the Europa-Park Stadion. “It’s a special evening, but it was a depressing first half,” added Streich later. A match for the ages.

Photo: Achim Keller


Match facts

SC Freiburg: Atubolu - Kübler (101' Günter), Gulde (86' Ginter), Sildillia (46' Weißhaupt) - Sallai (106' Muslija), Eggestein, Höfler, Makengo (46' Gregoritsch), Doan, Röhl (86' Grifo) - Höler 
Head coach: Christian Streich 
Bench: Müller, Uphoff, Szalai, Weißhaupt, Adamu, Muslija, Ginter, Günter, Grifo, Gregoritsch 
RC Lens: Samba - Gradit (103' Diouf), Khusanov, Medina - Frankowski (73' Aguilar), El Aynaoui, Abdul Samed (103' Said), Chavez (80' Haidara) - Pereira Da Costa (80' Fulgini), Sotoca, Wahi (73' Guilavogui) 
Head coach: Haise Franck 
Bench: Leca, Pandor, Aguilar, Haidara, Diouf, Fulgini, Mendy, Sishuba, Thomasson, Guilavogui, Said 
Goals: 0-1 Pereira Da Costa (28'), 0-2 Wahi (45'), 1-2 Sallai (67'), 2-2 Sallai (90'+2), 3-2 Gregoritsch (99') 
Yellow cards: Höler, Kübler, Frankowski, Streich, Sotoca, Fulgini, Said,  
Referee: Rade Obrenovic 
Attendance: 34,700 


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