1.FC Union Berlin: – Frederik Rönnow – Julian Ryerson, Diogo Leite, Robin Knoche, Paul Jaeckel, Christopher Trimmel – Janik Haberer, Rani Khedira, Genki Haraguchi (Morton Thorsby) – Jordan Siebatcheu (Sven Michel), Sheraldo Becker (Niko Giesselmann)
Malmö FF: Ismael Diawara – Oscar Lewicki (Emmanuel Lomotey), Dennis Hadzikadunic, Felix Bejimo – Martin Olsson, Sergio Pena, Huga Larsson, Joseph Ceesay – Anders Christiansen, Isaac Kiese Thelin, Jo Inge Berget (Erdal Rakip)
Goal: 1-0. Knoche (87)
Red Card: Emmanuel Lomotey
1. FC Union berlin beat Malmö FF in a famous victory at the Alte Försterei through Robin Knoche's nerveless penalty kick. They will be playing in European competition after Christmas for the first time in their history.
Scoreless at half time, Union in the ascendancy, but a stop-start affair
All Union needed out of this was a win. Having clawed their way to victory last week in Sweden, Urs Fischer knew that their fate lay in their own hands. That third place in the group, and with it at least a guaranteed entry to the knock-out stage of the Europa Conference League, and European competition after Christmas for the first time in this already astonishing season, and in Union’s history, would be achieved.
But they had to be cautious. Malmö weren’t without their own danger last week, when they controlled the first half.
Urs Fischer was confident in his team and in his plans, though. He barely rotated his side. Andras Schäfer was out due to his suspension, Genki Haraguchi taking his place in midfield as he had against in the win against Stuttgart on Sunday, and Diogo Leite returned to the back three.
Union started sharply. A mistake from Sergio Pena left Sheraldo Becker to run at the left-back. He crossed deep but it was too long for Janik Haberer’s outstretched leg as he came in at the back post. Julian Ryerson would hit one from the opposite flank but it was just too close to Ismael Diawara in Malmö’s goal. Haraguchi made a sloppy pass back but made up for it, covering up, sliding at the ankles of Pena who was never far away from the action in one way or another.
Fischer had said his side wouldn’t try to win this in the first 15 minutes, and he was right. Union were careful, patient. It was a bitty affair, with a whistle happy, officious referee. the first half was largely enlivened only by the volume of the crowd and the glare of the floodlights.
But Union flashed in places, showing their technical ability and their fabled organisational capabilities. Robin Knoche was stepping up, and when he stayed back, Sunday's surprise goalscorer, Paul Jaeckel did so instead. Union had started to up their pace as the half wore on.
Rani Khedira hit a perfect 30 yard through ball to Becker after 20 minutes. He turned Oscar Lewicki inside out, but couldn’t deliver a cross to a waiting Jordan. Malmö’s left midfielder Martin Olsson was then lucky to get away with a warning when he pulled back Haraguchi as he suddenly broke through the middle.
Then after 25 minutes Union threatened for the first time. It started with the rare sight of Rani Khedira bringing the ball up the left. He’s not usually a man for a dashing run, but he’s got a beautiful touch and is as strong as he is confident. He took the ball on with no options elsewhere. The corner he won was hit short to Haberer, who laid it off in turn to an overlapping ChristopherTrimmel who hit it goalwards, right footed. Diawara only just got down in time to claw it off the line.
Only a minute later Julian Ryerson, as dogged and inventive as ever on the left, found Becker whose clever through ball almost set Jordan free. The volume rose a little, the pace rose perceptibly higher. One fed off the other.
It got louder still as Robin Knoche made a superb last minute stop at the other end. Malmö weren’t without their moments, but they lacked bite up front.
Trimmel got a yellow card after half an hour, bringing down Olsson from behind. Sergio Pena an utterly needless one for kicking the ball away when Haraguchi wanted to take a sharp, short free kick. As the injured Jo Inge Berget lay prone on the floor the Union players went to the bench where Fischer, exuding calm, his hands in the pockets of his long black jacket, calmly told them to carry on, to keep spreading the play, to keep hitting those balls into the channels.
Haraguchi soon after found space, but hit his cross behind Becker when he had time to conjure something better. Becker’s advice to his teammate was somewhat less relaxed in manner than that of his coach.
But let it not be said he’s not as demanding of himself. When he mis-hit a cross into Diawara’s arms he threw his arms, he roared into the clear Köpenick night sky.
But play stopped and it started, it stopped and it started. There was little momentum, too few passages of play where things could really start to open up.
Haraguchi soon brought down a Knoche long ball artfully with his heel at waist height, dropping it into Becker’s path, but his shot went over the bar. There was still time for Diogo Leite to hit one from distance to keeper’s right hand side after a dashing run by Ryerson, but the half time whistle went with things still scoreless.
A chaotic second half, a nerveless
Union came out unchanged, and they continued to press Malmö back into their own half, passing crisply at the back, always looking for one of those devastating runs into the channels that has become their hallmark. Straight away a neat combination between Jordan, Haraguchi and Becker lead to a shot at the near post, though one easily saved.
The Malmö coach, Age Hareide, was all hands and arms by now, a pacing, manic presense. He raged when Isaak Kiese Thelin shot well wide when he had time and space to choose a better option. He’d see worse as the half wore on.
Just before the hour Becker thought he’d scored – as did the crowd - when Khedira found him in his classic position, to the right of the goal with the ball at his toe. He finished, as he so often does, across the keeper, bending his shot inside the far post with his right, but it was chalked off for offside. Union were pouring on the pressure now.
And still referee Stavrev kept stopping the play. He was booed by the Unioner when he booked Knoche for backchat, and even louder when he booked Khedira just afterwards after Olsson took a tumble near the touchline.
Khedira hit the post just after, a lovely half volley from just outside the box. Union were all over Malmö; they just lacked that finish. Jordan’s clever backheel didn’t quite have the strength behind it, Becker’s low shot-come-cross rolled across the face of goal.
Fischer brought on Morton Thorsby and Sven Michel for Jordan and Haraguchi and it brought dividends, almost immediately thinking they’d won a penalty when Becker was bundled over in the box. The referee went to the sidelines to check the VAR screen, the wait endless. Then he changed his mind. The Unioner were livid. Fischer was too. He was the next to get a yellow card for his troubles.
As Olsson went down with cramp the Malmö players squeezed in a quick drink. The ref broke that up only to see the midfielder strolling back onto the pitch. So he went in the book as well. The game could barely start for stopping by this point. And there were still 15 minutes to play.
Union pushed and pushed, they huffed and they puffed but they couldn’t blow Malmö’s house down. Sven Michel pulled the ball back for Becker cleverly, but his own cross went out. Union made another change, Kevin Behrens on for the indefatigable Janik Haberer. Malmö were now encamped only in their half as Union laid siege to them.
Then Union won another penalty - this time given, this time decisive - after Kevin Behrens was pushed in the back, in the crowd, in the box, trying to reach Becker’s cross from the left.
Robin Knoche held the ball lovingly through the chaos that ensued. His was the last cool head in the stadium. He strolled up as if he had all the time in the world. He put it down, took a couple of steps back and put it hard to the keeper’s right. Though Diawara dived the right way he never stood a chance.
And the roof came off the Alte Försterei.
Emmanuel Lomotey was soon sent off after a lunge on Becker brought a yellow card. His reaction got another. Again it went to VAR, and the decision was changed to a straight red. He hadn’t even been on for long.
There was still time for some more chances and another booking or two, and some more stoppages that sapped the life out of the legs of the broken Malmö players who’d been outplayed thoroughly on a wild night, but by now that all meant little to the Unioner as they roared their heroes names into the skies over Köpenick.
For under Urs Fischer Union had done what no Union team had ever done before. They are writing history. And the story… well the story is still far from over.