Jordan Siebatcheu's penalty was enough to see off a dogged Augsburg side in the first of Saturday's two friendlies against them.
1. FC Union Berlin: Grill – Maciejewski, Doekhi, Knoche, Baumgartl, Gießelmann – Haraguchi, Khedira, Pantovic (46.Öztunali) – Becker, Siebatcheu
FC Augsburg: Gikiewicz – Gumny, Gouweleeuv, Uduokahi, Pedersen – Baumgartlinger – Maier, Rexhbecaj (19. Dell‘ Erba) – Jensen (82. Kömür), Demirovic, Vargas
Goals: Jordan Siebatcheu (57, pen.)
There is a famous story about an American broadcaster complaining to a colleague from another country on the day before a World Cup qualifier.
“Well at least you only need to play once today. We’ve got to play Trinidad and Tobago.”
It is almost certainly apocryphal, but we shouldn’t let that get in the way of a good line, and it does nicely illustrate a point about the curious nature of Saturday afternoon’s tests for 1. FC Union Berlin as they approach the end of the first week of their winter training camp in Campoamor, Spain.
This was a clash of two Bundesliga teams with two different squads each. Two games. Two chances. Back to back. Memories of the wild first half an hour of the draw at the Alte Försterei in what felt like a very, very long time ago, stirred at the thought. Just as the palm trees encircling the dry, slightly patchy pitch, and the contrast between the brilliant blue sky and the orange sandstone cliffs, and the marble-white villa taking the place of the Waldseite up behind one of the goals reminded us that this was a long way from home.
Urs Fischer had spoken before about the necessity of building up intensity as the camp wore on, and of the need to develop flexibility, to keep their opponents guessing as they rapidly approach the second half of the season.
Here though, in the first of the day’s exercises, he was playing to type. A classic Union back three, with flying wingbacks in Niko Giesselmann and Tim Maciejewski flanking them, doing the heavy lifting, there to stop the danger of Augsburg countering, and to serve the twin threat of Jordan Siebatcheu and Sheraldo Becker up front.
Jordan looked sharpest in the opening minutes, harrying Robert Gumny, bullying him, combining with Giesselmann behind him on the left hand side, leading to a corner that forced a Rafal Gikiewicz save from Robin Knoche. He would have to do the same again five minutes later.
Knoche would team up with Timo Baumgartl to rob Ermedin Demirovic after almost 20 minutes, as he’d calmly head away a free kick from the same player just moments later. He was seemingly everywhere, even pulling off a superb stop out on the left wing. His partner to the right, Danilho Doekhi was also never afraid of stepping up into midfield, particularly in the second half as Union strived to to up the pressure in their opponents.
He do so with his foot on the ball, pointing to Genki Haraguchi and Milos Pantovic to spread out, showing them the space he was granting them by his presence.
But the game was lacking in much drama outside of the sparse prettiness of the setting. The 300 fans enjoyed themselves in the sun, their shouts mingling with those of the players on the pitch, their claps drowned out by those of the coaches in front of their Bedouin style dugouts, the thud of boot on ball and the thwack of ball on thigh.
Union were the better side for much of the half, though. Becker caused trouble down the left, Jordan bristled and bustled in and around the box, Milos Pantovic went down 30 yards out when setting himself up to shoot from distance. Giesselmann hit the resulting free kick too close to Gikiewicz.
Though with a quarter of an hour to go he hit a beauty with his left foot into the base of the post when everyone seemed certain he’d use his right and bend a cross into the box. He deserved better for his moment of improvisation.
Becker and Jordan would combine again a couple of times before the break, but the exactitude that defines their partnership in the Bundesliga wasn’t yet there.
Jordan came much closer, flashing a header wide from Giesselmann’s cross just after the shortened half time break.
He would get his chance when Haraguchi won a penalty, his cross striking a turning Aron Zehnter in the box. It wasn’t clear-cut, and they could hardly go to a video assistant located in a bunker somewhere near the tenth green of the golf course next door for help with the decision, so after some chattering and some more considering the referee pointed to the spot.
Jordan stepped up, a giant with the ball in his hand, a look of steel in his eisern eyes. He needed a goal, he wanted a goal.
Gikiewicz bobbed up and down on his line, but was sent the wrong way with the greatest of ease. It was a superb penalty. He stroked the ball with grace and ease to the keeper’s right and turned away, a smile on his face. Jordan thought they had won a second just a few moments later when Levin Öztunali, who’d replaced Pantovic, went down coming in from the inside left channel.
But it wasn’t to be.
Öztunali would have a delicious chance laid out for him on a silver platter with sparklers at the sides and a cherry on top by Becker, but he snatched at the finish, the sign of a player trying almost too hard to get that breakthrough goal he needs so badly, and side-footed it wide.
Augsburg had improved somewhat by that point, Arne Meier struck a free kick over the bar from the edge of the box with 20 minutes to go, Demirovic shot far too close to Lennart Grill, but they never really roused themselves out of their slumber.
Still, as the first game of two on this most unique of football afternoons drew to a close - and the sweat rolled down their faces, and their breaths drew heavier and heavier, despite the relatively placid nature of the affair - it was at least approaching siesta time.
The report for the second game can be read here