1.FC Union Berlin: Frederik Rönnow – Julian Ryerson (Niko Gieselmann), Diogo Leite, Robin Knoche, Danilho Doekhi, Christopher Trimmel (c) – Janik Haberer (Genki Haraguchi), Rani Khedira, Andras Schäfer – Jordan Siebatcheu (Kevin Behrens), Sheraldo Becker
Malmö FF: Ismael Diawara –Oscar Lewicki, Dennis Hadzikadunic, Felix Beijmo – Martin Olsson, Hugo Larsson (Moustafa Zeidan), Erdal Rakip, Joseph Ceesay – Jo Inge Berge (Ola Toivonen)t, Isaac Kiese Thelin, Anders Christiansen.
Goals: 0-1. Becker ()
Red card: Schäfer (43)
1. FC Union won their first ever game in the UEFA Europa League, despite being down to ten men for the whole second half following Andras Schäfer's sending off, and a long interruption after pyrotechnics were thrown onto the pitch.
Shortly after the re-start the game was put on hold, following repeated provocations between fans in both the home areas and in the visitors' block. When pyrotechnics were set off and some were fired onto the pitch and into spectator areas, referee Halil Umut Meler sent both teams to the dressing room.
Honours even in a largely chanceless first half. But Schäfer sees red right at the end.
Urs Fischer had found himself in a strange position over the last week. Never before had 1. FC Union Berlin ridden so high – they still sit regally atop the Bundesliga – yet a European campaign that had promised so much, that had been the cause of such fevered anticipation, was in danger of petering out, not with a bang, but a whimper.
Union had played two and lost two in the Europa League thus far. They needed to win this game. The problem was, so had Malmö, and so did they. That Union would win, in the end, after the chaos that preceeded it, does him and his players great credit.
And that he had to miss training for most of the week didn’t improve matters for the Swiss. A positive Covid test forced him to hand over the reins to his co-coach, and friend, Markus Hoffman. It was Hoffmann who had brought the players over, who had guided them through their routines, who had prepared them as best he could until the return of the boss this afternoon.
Danilho Doekhi came in for Paul Jaeckel, With Andras Schäfer returning to the starting eleven instead of Morton Thorsby, and Julian Ryerson replaced Niko Giesselmann.
The Malmö end had already been crackling with flares before a minute’s silence, impeccably followed by the entire stadium united for a moment in horror and grief for the victims of the catastrophe in Indonesia. Then, as soon as it was over they were met by a storm of red ones pluming white smoke in the Union end.
It was tight at the beginning. Malmö won a corner after Trimmel’s clearance bounced off the corner flag. Jordan then made a nuisance of himself on the right hand side, Schäfer picking up the deflected ball, his shot then went out for a corner. It showed his intent. He started the game strongly, he even improved as it went on.
Then Hugo Larsson, who has played his whole career at Malmö, hit a searching ball over to Jo Inge Berget who blazed over the bar, having neatly brought the ball down over his shoulder a second earlier. The first big chance fell to Malmö’s Kiese Thelin, who hit his half-volley straight at Rönnow when he probably had time to pick a spot.
As had been the case in the first halves against St. Gilloise and Braga, Union were struggling to create. It took 20 minutes for Markus Hofmann to come off the bench, barking at Becker, telling him to keep moving, to find some of the space that Malmö had been denying him so well so far. He would be a constant flea in the ear of the fourth official as the half wore on. No Malmö foul went unnoticed by him. Fischer though played good cop to him, he took his hands out of his pockets for a moment to clap them together for Becker, he willed them on. But Malmö were growing into the game, Larsson pulling the strings, their front three of Berget, Isaac Kiese Thelin and the Dane, Anders Christianson, taking turns to drop back into midfield.
One combination forced a challenge from the diminutive Schäfer, this time tracking back diligently.
But it wasn’t all Malmö, it was tightly poised.
Janik Haberer found Becker, suddenly there was an opening, a chance like the goal he scored against Schalke. The angle was tight as he shot from the right hand side with his left, but what looked like a combination of Ismael Diawara, in goal, and the post kept it out. A few minutes later Schäfer hit a deliciously weighted through ball into the inside right channel for Becker to then run onto, but he couldn’t find Jordan haring into the box.
Haberer volleyed over after half an hour from the edge of the box. Schäfer was now everywhere, picking up the ball just inside the Malmö half and finding Trimmel at the back post. His header went over harmlessly.
A cleverly worked move then saw Becker slide a ball out to Trimmel whose cross found Haberer. He struck it with a certain venom but only at the keeper, Diawara. It had come off the back of Union’s greatest period of extended pressure as the clock ticked down to half time.
But then, catastrophe. Schäfer misjudged an easy ball. He was at the back, all alone, it slipped away from under his foot and Christiansen was onto it immediately. Schäfer just pulled him back as he burst past towards the goal. It was instinctive, he didn’t even think about it, he just wanted to hold him back. The referee didn’t stop for a second to think about whether to show him a red card or not. It slipped out of his pocket so smoothly. And you could see the young Hungarian biting his lip as he trudged off the pitch. He was heartbroken.
An interrupted second half. A brilliant goal.
After the re-start Union took the game to Malmö. Becker, a man possessed, found Jordan almost immediately as he bore left. He would then ran forty yards down the right, cutting back for Haberer who’s left footed finish flew well wide. Union weren’t to be beaten down, that certain. But they would leave gaps. Then Christiansen forced a great stop from Rönnow ten minutes into the half.
Becker was taking control, give me the ball, he said. Doekhi headed over a Trimmel free-kick
But then the game was stopped in its tracks. Rockets came from both ends as well as, apparently, from a neutral sector. There was a bang, and then a bigger one. The players were taken off the pitch and an uneasy pause descended over the stadium.
And everyone waited, nobody knew what was going to go on, if the game would even re-start. Ultimately a message came out that with no further pyrotechnics it could.
Eventually the players came back out. They had to warm up again. And they had to rouse themselves. Frederik Rönnow, however had to get straight back into action, saving well from Martin Olsson immediately. They shook themselves down. Rani Khedira ran and ran and ran. Doekhi swept up beautifully, sliding to stop Kiese Thelin.
And then, suddenly it was his moment, Sheraldo Becker was on the run, coming off the shoulder of the last man, just where he wanted him. He burst past Lewicki, and finished brilliantly, across the keeper and inside the far post. It was a remarkable finish from the man of the match
Union were now rampant, running on adrenaline. Haberer’s shot was tipped just over. Kevin Behrens, who’d replaced a Jordan Siebatcheu who’d covered so much ground all night, flashed a header over the bar from a deep free kick.
And Becker, who must have grown a foot, who’s shoulders were back ever further, who was playing the game of his life, burst again, this time onto Doekhi’s pass out from the back. He beat Lewicki again, but had to go it alone. Before Behrens could catch up into the box he opted to shoot, slotting the ball through the eye of a needle towards the back post. It rolled just wide.
Becker came off with just six minutes added time to play, he dragged his aching body to the touchline. And somehow, out of it all, Union came away with their first victory in the Europa League. A lifeline, a chance, that will be talked about for a long, long time.
Quotes following the game:
Union President Dirk Zingler commented after the match on the incidents that led to the stoppage of play: "I'm happy about the victory because it is well deserved from a sporting point of view. But everything else that happened today is unacceptable. Nobody has any business in other blocks or on the pitch, we don't do that, and then suddenly we do. That really annoys me."
Urs Fischer was happy with the win, of course, but upset at the events that lead to the break in play. "I always had the feeling that we controlled the game. Of course you have concerns after the sending off, but we then did well and ultimately deserved to win, I think," said Union coach Urs Fischer after the final whistle. "We had a lot of opportunities in the end, and perhaps we should have made more use of one or two of them, but in the end the one goal was enough. All I can say about the incidents is that I absolutely cannot understand it and something like that has no place in football. It is shameful."