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1. FC Union Berlin vs Ajax

UEFA Europa League, Play-offs, 2nd Leg

1. FC Union vs Ajax

UEFA Europa League, Play-offs, 2nd Leg

Thu., 23. February 2023, 21:00 Uhr
An der Alten Försterei
3 : 1
21.800
SR: Ricardo de Burgos Bengoetxea

Union Beat Ajax 3-1

Match report

The Union fans were still there long after the final whistle, cheering the name only of Urs Fischer, the man who had brought them so far, who had masterminded this most astonishing of fairytales. For his 1. FC Union Berlin side had just beaten the famous Ajax Amsterdam through skill and wit, and tenacity and togetherness. They took the lead through Robin Knoche’s nerveless penalty, Josip Juranovic doubling it just before half time. Danilho Doekhi scored the third with a header that almost burst the net. It was astonishing, they couldn’t believe their eyes.

1. FC Union Berlin: Rönnow – Juranovic (90.+4 Trimmel), Doekhi, Knoche, Leite, Roussillon (90.+4 Gießelmann) – Haberer, Khedira, Laïdouni (65. Thorsby) – Becker (85. Leweling), Behrens (65. Siebatcheu) 
 
Ajax Amsterdam: Rulli – Rensch (84. Conceicao), Timber, Álvarez, Bassey – Kudus, Klaassen (64. Brobbey), Taylor – Berghuis, Tadić, Bergwijn (80. Lucca) 

Attendance: 21.800 
 
Goals: 1:0 Knoche (20.), 2:0 Juranovic (44.), 2:1 Kudus (47.), 3:1 Doekhi (50.) 

The rain started to come down over Köpenick and the Wuhlheide, and the Alte Försterei at its heart, a couple of hours before kick off. It always does. It rained before Saint Gilloise as it rained before Braga, as it rained before Malmö. It rained last week in Amsterdam like the dykes had been emptied and shaken out over the Johan Cruijff Arena.

It mingled with the smoke from the grills and the keen sense of anticipation in the Winter air. But the Unioner didn’t notice. They were ready, ready for the biggest game in a generation here. Ready for the visit of the four times European Cup winners, Ajax Amsterdam.

And it all started with a choreo, a huge figure of Wilhelm Voigt, the legendary Hauptmann of Köpenick, draped the length of the Waldseite, asleep at his desk, dreaming of all those impossibles; of titles and cups and of European glory. Then it was followed by a second. He’d awoken… Little did they know how prescient it would be, for surely no-one imagined this, that Union would beat Ajax so comprehensively. Dreams, the Unioner said, could come true after all.

Knoche converts, Juranovic doubles from distance

Ajax started well. Danilho Doekhi had to react well to sniff out Dusan Tadic’s ball into the box, even as Calvin Bassey was down after going toe to toe with Kevin Behrens. Ajax looked to use their pace. Steven Bergwijn broke on the left and hit a dangerous ball to Mohammed Kudus. Rönnow claimed it well. He would make four or five good stops in the half, stepping up to the biggest stage with aplomb.

But it was open, and Union too looked to break, they were all as if intoxicated by the noise. Aissa Laidouni slid perfectly to disposses Steven Berghuis. He did it again a couple of minutes later, winning a goal kick when the Ajax winger threatened to burst past him down the right.

Bergwijn then turned Josip Juranovic, Jurrien Timber was in there but Rönnow cleared up. Ajax were already posing more of a threat than they had in Amsterdam. But this Union side had been chastened by not taking their chances over the last week. Urs Fischer had mentioned it again and again. He also, however, said that they’d need a little bit of luck.

It came after Jerome Rousillon won a corner on the left off Devyne Rensch after Behrens’ clever ball out to him after 15 minutes. It went deep to an ominously rising Danilho Doekhi whose header struck Bassey’s hand in the box.

The referee waved play on, but amongst the tumult he recieved a message from somewhere else, away off the pitch. He went to consult his screen and awarded the spot-kick. All hell broke loose in the box. There was a scuffle, a bit of shoving here and there, a crowd suddenly coming together. Chaos reigned all around as the stands boiled in indignation around them. Sheraldo Becker and Davy Klaasen were both booked.

The noise rose, the tension too, but Juranovic held the ball for Robin Knoche, possibly thinking of taking the penalty himself if the chance arose. But Knoche had scored like this against Braga. He had no second thoughts here and stepped up with the ball under his arm. He placed it down and shot perfectly to Geronimo Rulli’s right. The keeper got a fingertip to it, touching the ball onto the post, but the penalty was too well hit, too precise. Union were in the lead.

Ajax roared back, Klaasen in the box almost sneaking past Jerome Rousillon, but Juranovic was there to twist and turn his way out of trouble. Kenneth Taylor then got the ball on the edge of the box, but Janik Haberer came out of nowhere to stop him before he could pull the trigger. Rousillon danced past Rensch on the left but his cross was claimed by Rulli.

Haberer got a yellow for a late tackle on Timber after that, and Union certainly weren’t holding back from the big tackles. It is what defines them as much as their spirit, after all.

As that spirit is embodied by Rani Khedira. His challenge on Mohammed Kudus after half an hour  was majestic, perfectly timed, and tough enough to fell several of the trees in the forest outside. Juranovic chased up and down the right hand touchline like a dog at a postmans knees, chasing Steven Bergwijn all the way back to the halfway line. He was enjoying himself, Juranovic. Bergwijn feigned to throw the ball at him at a throw on and he laughed back. Bergwijn looked flustered, he fluffed a slide-rule pass to Tadic a moment later.

In the second half Juranovic beat him to a ball the Ajax man was sure was going out for a corner, but the Croatian fullback back-heeled it improbably back into play and into safety.

Meanwhile Kevin Behrens was magnificent, playing with his back to goal, chesting everything down, holding the ball up, holding Union together whenever they needed a moment. He slipped Sheraldo Becker through on the outside with the deftest of touches after 37 minutes. He slid to stop Kudus just after after he’d combined with Tadic. He headed Taylor’s cross out of the box with ease. He brought down another long ball after Knoche had cleared, dropping his shoulder and turning Tadic inside out like he was playing a schoolboy game in the box. Behrens was clattered by Edson Alvarez in the second half, taking a bash to the head, but he was up straight away, shaking it off.

Kudus flashed just wide after Rönnows superb stop from a shot towards the back post.

But then came the hammer blow. Union broke at the other end. There was a moment of confusion, as the ball fell to Juranovic, in space outside of the box, just to the right of centre. He looked up and spotted a gap, hitting the ball with his left foot, bending back in towards the back post. Rulli should have stopped it, he certainly touched it, but the ball few into the back of the net.

It all just seemed so unreal, Union were 2-0 up.

Ajax hit back, but Doekhi steps up.

Ajax scored almost as soon as the game had re-started. Steven Bergwijn jinked down the left, hitting a speculative ball into a box full of loitering Union defenders. But somehow Kudus had slipped in between them and finished first time, wheeling away.The Union defence looked at each other, perplexed. They’d been so solid, and it had taken just a moment for everything to fall apart. They wouldn’t make that mistake again.

But Ajax’s joy would last only three minutes. Union won a corner. It went out for another. This time Juranovic found Doekhi whose header was hit with thunderous, righteous anger. So much had been said of Sheraldo becker facing his old club, the superb defender had somehow slipped away from the conversation. As he did against Hertha and against Gladbach and Hoffenheim twice, he left the keeper no chance.

Ajax were stunned. Knoche was nudged off the ball, it rolled to Tadic who found Kudus, whose shot went a mile wide. Rönnow raced out of his box to dispossess Kudus. Klaasen went down in the box after Tadic’s neat backheel. Doekhi robbed Klaasen with ease.

Kudus then flashed wide as suddenly Ajax cut Union up in the box a fleeting moment of pace and precision, but his finish was lacking.

There were flares in the stands and fouls on the pitch, and the Unioner sung about “Union in Europa, Union international,” as if this was all possible, as if it hadn’t been one of Wilhelm Voigt’s fever dreams after all. Behrens hit a delightful ball to Becker out wide, but his cross couldn’t quite repay the favour.

Union would be content to sit back as the clock wound down, happy to let Ajax have the ball now, safe with the solidity provided by Doekhi, Leite and Knoche, the rocks upon which everything is built.

And it allowed them to spring the trap with ease when they wanted to break. Juranovic robbed Kenneth Taylor suddenly and found Becker, who could only shoot at the keeper. The corner wound its way back to Becker again whose blistering drive flew just over the bar. Becker held his head in his hands, he was desperate to score. He was often on his own, alone up top now, but he didn’t stop. He went on another burst from Haberer’s pass, and another, where he turned back on himself, content to sacrifice his own dreams for the sake of the team. He flattened his palms to his teammates, telling them to keep cool.

They had this, he said.

But it took the full might of Bassey to stop him with fifteen minutes to go, dragging him to the ground from behind.

Becker’s last touch was as he made a final run, choosing to go down the middle this time. He shrugged off Timber and shot superbly, but Rulli, diving, palmed it wide. The applause for him as he left the pitch was deafening. He still had never scored against Ajax. But it didn’t matter a jot.

Things got tetchy as Ajax played on while Jordan lay sprawled out on the turf clutching his head. But their own heads had dropped, they had been outplayed, outfought. Substitute Morten Thorsby tackled Bassey, his slide covering some ten yards, which somehow summed the whole thing up.

Fischer praised his team’s courage, and their indefatiguablitiy after the final whistle. He said that the pressure on them had been enormous, and he was right.

And as Robin Knoche hit a final free kick into the heavens they knew it was all over. Union had an impossible dream come true, again. 

Union's Crucial Second Leg

Match preview

In the second leg of this year's play-offs for the knockout round of the Europa League, 1. FC Union Berlin will face Ajax Amsterdam at the stadium An der Alten Försterei on Thursday, 21.02.2023. Kick off is at 21:00.

The lie of the land

After the goalless draw between the sides currently second in the Eredivisie and third in the Bundesliga in the first leg (the only one of the knock out round), at least one thing is certain; there will be a minimum of one goal seen on Thursday night. Whether that comes in the 90 minutes, extra time or in a penalty shoot-out, however, remains to be seen. It is also worth remembering that the away goals rule no longer counts in UEFA competition. The winner will enter the last 16 of the Europa League. 

The opponents

Ajax coach John Heitinga's team were certainly more accurate in front of goal over the last weekend than Union, giving Sparta Rotterdam no chance in a 4-0 mauling, in which they were two up after less than half an hour. Mohamed Kudus scored the fourth with a superb direct free kick just before the final whistle. 

A more detailed check of the opponents can be found in the pre-match report.

The personnel

András Schäfer is still not available for selection and Niko Giesselmann was forced to end training early on Thursday, but his fitness will be assessed on Thursday morning. Otherwise Urs Fischer has a complete squad at his disposal.

The coach and player's view ahead of the match.

"We have to repeat our performance from the first leg and go one better, still," said Urs Fischer, Union head coach during his press conference on wednesday. "We have to take our chances, so efficiency is enormously important. In the first leg, we showed a very good side to ourselves overall and we were very disciplined. In the end, of course, we also need a bit of luck on our side."

Dutch defender Danilho Doekhi, meanwhile, is looking forward to the return match: "We have a good feeling for the game. In Amsterdam, we delivered a good game and were a bit unlucky when the goal was pulled back. We want to win the return match for the fans as well."

Service info

The away section in the stadium An der Alten Försterei is sold out. As usual, the stadium gates will open two hours before kick-off. Due to the changed route to and from the stadium An der Alten Försterei, pedestrians are asked to allow extra time for their journey.

The match will be broadcast live on RTL and, as usual, Union will also report on the match on the club's own live ticker, as well as in English on Twitter.

AFTV Videos

MatchStatistics

1. FC Union Berlin vs Ajax

27 % Possession 73 %
67 % Pass Completion Rate 87 %
55 % Successful Tackle Rate 45 %
10 Shots on Goal 11
9 Crosses 20
2 Yellow Cards 6
0 Yellow-Red Cards 1
0 Red Cards 0

Last match

Date Home Result Away