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Showdown in Belgium – Union Berlin moves into the knockout phase

Union Berlin's triumphant season continues after their fourth minimalist Europa League win in a row.

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Showdown in Belgium – Union Berlin moves into the knockout phase

Union Berlin's triumphant season continues after their fourth minimalist Europa League win in a row. The Bundesliga leaders won 1-0 (1-0) at Belgian runners-up Royale Union Saint-Gilloise on Thursday evening and thus secured entry into the knockout round of the competition. In front of around 6,000 spectators at the Den Dreef stadium in Leuven – including a few Union players – Sven Michel (6th minute) shot the irons to victory in just his second starting eleven of the season.

At the end of the group phase, the Köpenickers under coach Urs Fischer took second place in group D behind the Belgians, who had already won the group, and ahead of Sporting Braga (Portugal).

After a weak start to the Europa League with two defeats, Union won four games in a row - all 1-0. In the knockout round in February next year, the Berliners now have an attractive opponent: FC Barcelona, ​​Juventus Turin or Ajax Amsterdam are among the possible. The draw will take place next Monday.

A lawsuit by the capital against the ban on entering the city of Leuven for Union fans was dismissed before the game. Union had not been allowed to award away tickets for the encounter due to previous failures of parts of the appendix. Nevertheless, Union fans had traveled on their own initiative. Some of them made it into the stadium. Their chants could be heard in the second half.

Fischer showed a good touch by bringing Christopher Trimmel and Michel into the starting XI. In the early stages, Captain Trimmel saved a ball from passing in the direction of Sheraldo Becker. Michel put his cross into the goal with a jumped-in shot against the direction of Saint-Gilloise keeper Anthony Moris.

A game developed with many hard duels and few chances to score. The strong Belgians came into play better after around 20 minutes. The Köpenicker defended the attacks mostly confidently, but were lucky that Saint-Gilloise did not act more consistently with a few technical errors.

After the break, Union had to change the goalkeeper: Lennart Grill came on for the injured Frederik Rönnow. The 23-year-old Grill flew past a cross shortly after the restart. Simon Adingra's shot went wide of the target (51'). After a mistake in the Belgian defense, Becker missed the great opportunity to score the second goal (61st). The Berliners increasingly focused on bringing the result over time. Shortly before the end, Robin Knoche blocked a shot from substitute Victor Boniface in dire need.

Despite an emotional race to catch up against OGC Nice, 1. FC Köln did not get beyond a draw and were eliminated from the Europa Conference League. Coach Steffen Baumgart's team separated 2:2 (0:2) from the southern French. The Cologne goals from Denis Huseinbasic (48th minute) and Ondrej Duda (60th) in a furious second half were just not enough.

For the international winter, the Rhinelanders would have needed a win in front of 47,000 spectators. After dropping out of the European Cup and the DFB Cup, FC now has to concentrate on the Bundesliga. Gaëtan Laborde (40') and Billal Brahimi (43') scored the goals for Nice.

The first leg almost two months ago was overshadowed by riots and fights in the stands. This time the police prevented a dispute in front of the stadium, according to their own statements. Before the game, carnival hits and Rhenish folklore dominated the events in the arena. The Cologne fans received their team with a great choreography. And that showed its effect.

SC Freiburg ended the group stage of the Europa League after conceding a late goal with a draw but without defeat. The Bundesliga team, who were already the group winners before the last matchday, drew 1-1 (1-0) away from Karabakh Agdam on Thursday, although the sports club were outnumbered for more than half an hour.

Freiburg, who were almost completely turned inside out, initially benefited from a converted penalty by veteran Petersen (25th minute). A supposed goal by the home side was not recognized due to an offside position (56th). In addition, the referee took back a penalty kick shortly before. After the change of sides, Kevin Medina saw the red card after a rude challenge against Kevin Schade (62nd). All three decisions against Karabakh were made after the intervention of the video assistant. Nevertheless, the home side still managed to equalize. Owusu Kwabena equalized in added time (90.1).

In addition to the Breisgauers, who were already qualified for the round of 16 before the duel, FC Nantes from Group G is also wintering in the Europa League. Since the French Cup winners also won in the parallel game at Olympiakos Piraeus, Agdam fell back to third place. It is not yet clear who the Freiburg team will play against in the next round. The draw will take place on February 24, 2023.

Due to the good starting position, the only thing that mattered to the guests was to finish the group stage in a friendly way. Coach Christian Streich made it clear before departure that he did not want to give up the game without a fight. "It goes without saying that we give everything," he said. After all, it's still about something for the other teams, says Streich.

Nonetheless, he made ten positions in the Bundesliga game compared to the 2-0 win at FC Schalke 04, giving many top performers who have been under a lot of pressure lately a breather. Only captain Christian Günter remained in the starting XI. Lucas Höler, who was allowed to start again for the first time after surviving a broken metatarsal, had slight adjustment problems. He lost the ball on his first action in front of his own penalty area, but Owusu Kwabena was denied by Noah Atubolu (5th). The 20-year-old stood in for first-choice goalkeeper Mark Flekken.

The hosts were the more active team because the missing automatisms were clearly recognizable at the sports club. The processes and walking routes were always wrong. And yet, after surviving the pressure phase, Freiburg cheered. Petersen kept his nerve on the penalty kick and scored his first competitive goal since April 10.

Until the change of sides, Streich's pros had the game a little better under control. They were lucky shortly after the restart when the referee decided offside twice after consulting the video referee. Outnumbered, Karabakh managed to reward themselves with a draw for their fighting performance.

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