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Real Madrid vs 1. FC Union Berlin

UEFA Champions League, 1. Group match

Real vs 1. FC Union

UEFA Champions League, 1. Group match

Wed., 20. September 2023, 18:45 Uhr
Santiago Bernabéu
1 : 0
SR: Espen Eskås

Union Lose 1-0 to Real at the Last

Match report

Union were taught the hardest of lessons about life in the Champions League when they lost 1-0 to Real Madrid through a 94th minute Jude Bellingham goal. They had held on at times, but they were brave and never overawed. Frederik Rönnow made a handful of superb saves, and the back line defended diligently and intelligently, and the whole team can still be rightly proud of how they held their own. 

Real Madrid: Kepa – Alaba, Nacho (73. Garcia), Rüdiger, Vazquez – Tchouameni (66. Kroos) – Camavinga (66. Valverde), Bellingham, Modric (80. Díaz) – Rodrygo, Joselu 

1. FC Union Berlin: Rönnow – Juranović, Doekhi, Bonucci (80. Jaeckel), Leite, Gosens – Král, Tousart (83. Kemlein) – Becker (80. Fofana), Behrens (66. Volland), Laïdouni (66. Aaronson) 

Goals: Bellingham, 1-0 (90+4)

The hardest of lessons

Urs Fischer had spoken of the need to be courageous going into this game - that against a team like Real you can’t just sit back and wait for them to come at you - and he showed it. He left no doubt that he wanted to be positive to take the game to their honoured hosts. Sadly for him, courage sometimes isn’t quite enough, for even though his side showed it in spades, they were undone at the very last after the new Real Madrid wunderkind, Jude Bellingham, spun away with close to the final touch of a tense, battling game having scored his sixth goal in six for his new side.

Union started of course with a back five, the flying full-backs of Robin Gosens and Josip Juranovic either side of the superb Diogo Leite and Danilho Doekhi. And though it was hardly a surprise given the injury to a Robin Knoche who had borne as much responsibility as any for getting Union this far, it was a hell of a stage for Leonardo Bonucci to take his debut bow in the red of Union upon. He’d been here, before, of course. He’s played more Champions League games than many teams have on his own.

But then came the throw of the dice, Fischer doubling Lucas Tousart wit Alex Kral  as the holding midfielders behind a front three of Aissa Laidouni, Kevin Behrens and the captain for the day, Sheraldo Becker leading the line.

Union start brightly; Real assert themselves

Maybe it was a sign, for Union's night started inauspiciously, with a yellow card for Tousart in the first minute as he harried Luka Modric on the Real right-hand side. But he didn’t seem shaken, he was involved again straight away as Union stroked the ball around to the whistles of the Madrid crowd. He was covering all the space in the middle of the diamond Madrid midfield.

Predictably enough, Real reacted, Rodrygo finding Joselu with a chipped ball into the box that Rönnow held cleanly and easily, all the better to get a first touch of the ball. Rönnow was commanding in the box all game long, claiming crosses from Alaba and Rodrygo early on. The excellent Leite rose to the occasion at the back with a series of well-timed tackles, anticipating Camavinga’s ball to an open Joselu with ease. He was covering gaps, and when he spotted others opening up he was pointing them out.

He stood over a free kick for offside after 20 minutes, and motioned with his hands to his team-mates to keep calm, to take their time.

Alongside him, of course was Bonucci, who had his first real involvement soon enough, hitting a delicious ball out to Gosens, inside right. There was the briefest moment of panic in the Real backline, but they recovered quickly. And they hit right back, Lukas lofting a dangerous ball from the left, tantalisingly close to dropping under Rönnow’s bar.

It had started at a hell of a pace. Both sides looking to land an early punch. Union were all in black; Real in white.

Laidouni tricked Lucas inside and out. Rodrygo countered but was covered by Leite. Juranovic crossed for Behrens, but his header went wide. Bellingham, who took time to grow into the game tried to dance past Kral at the edge of the box, then Bonucci hoicked Rodrygo’s ball away. Tousart got in front of Modric’s cross before it could cause any danger.

But Union were  holding their own. Kepa had to come out and punch Becker’s cross from the right away, Laidouni tried to bicycle kick another from the edge of the box.

As the half wore on Union were seeing less and less of the ball, and when they got it their passes too often lacked the finest precision. Fischer clapped his hands together at the edge of his technical area, knowing that Real were ratcheting up the pressure, stepping further up the pitch, encroaching onwards, step by step.

There was a brief moment of chaos as Camavinga set himself up to shoot; Laidouni spotted the ball but his wild swing missed, and Kral did well to clear up. He was later clattered by Tchouameni, who went in studs up and was lucky to receive only a yellow card. Kral rolled in agony halfway between the centre circle and his box.

With four minutes to play he went down again, holding his toe in agony, his knee cocked, his head planted firmly upon it, but he returned to the pitch a minute later as Tchouameni tried an extravagant flick that went to no-one at all. The Czech midfielder presumably allowed himself the smallest of smiles at that.

And the more Real pushed, the more they dominated possession. Union held firm, refusing to bow down. Gosens' tackle on Lukas was a masterpiece, just as the Spaniard set himself to cross. As was Leite’s clearance from the same player with a minute to go, a case of simply being perfectly placed to cover the danger. As also was Bonucci’s covering of the silken Modric with the final act of the half, almost summing up Union’s first 45 minutes. They’d been steely and determined, focussed and above all, brave.

Union cling on, but Bellingham breaks their hearts

Union started brightly, a cleverly switched ball out wide from Kral came back across, working its way to Bonucci via the strong Behrens, holding off Rüdiger, who shot wide of the near post. Then Rodrygo almost found Bellingham darting into the box, but the ball was just behind the young Englishman. Rönnow saved superbly from Rodrygo again at the near post having ghosted past Leite with a neat header and shooting with his right. Rönnow stood firm though, beating the ball away with the strongest of hands.

Leite was more certain when he cleared Bellingham’s sharp little ball inside the box seven minutes in. Rönnow then saved from Joselu, diving to his right, as Real tried to turn the screw, and punched away the ensuing corner authoritatively.

Union were now clinging on at times, lacking the wherewithal to keep the ball when they had it, getting rushed by the constant pressure of the hosts. Becker succeeded, after Behrens had robbed Camavinga, but despite being bundled over by Rüdiger as he made for the corner flag, the linesman gave a foul the other way.

The Real fans behind the Union goal now did the Poznan, their backs to the pitch, bouncing, missing the increasingly influential Bellingham’s backheel to Modric. His dummy after 65 minutes was the act of a player now in full control of his game, Bonucci gladly toed it away into the ether.

Rönnow tipped Joselu’s goal bound downward header onto the post at full stretch as the ball reared up, superbly, after an hour, he held Tchouameni’s cross straight after. He had kept Union in the game.

And as Ancelotti showed his embarrassment of riches by bringing on Toni Kroos for Camavinga, and Valverde for Tchouameni, Fischer showed his own newfound strength in depth, bringing on Kevin Volland for the tireless, if luckless Behrens, and Brenden Aaronson for Laidouni. Aaronson immediately slipped Becker away down the right, his clipped ball to the back post went just over Volland’s head.

But Real were everywhere, pouring at Union from all angles. Modric shot over with 20 minutes to play when he time to pick his spot from just outside the box. Rodrygo, again, a constant menace, popping up inside and out, on the left and the right, stumbled when suddenly free with the ball dropping onto his toe at the back post. Bonucci scrambled Alaba's shot away and over the bar. Rüdiger headed over from inside the six-yard box.

But Union knew they only needed one chance. Aaronson broke, charging upfield having robbed Joselu, he tried to slip Volland through but Rüdiger was equal to it.

Doekhi, sliding in the box, stopped Joselu’s shot and the stadium roared as one for a penalty, but the referee was right there, immediately certain, his arms wide, his whistle remaining in his hand. Rüdiger tried some acrobatics of his own, connecting with the ball, but his effort went over.

Fischer brought on Fofana for Becker with ten minutes to play, hoping for a moment of magic that wasn’t to come.

Bellingham then hit wide first time towards the back post when he looked certain to finish and then Rönnow punched clear under infinite pressure from him. Bellingham gave him a mouthful, the best of signs for a keeper, he was getting under his skin, and Brahim Diaz threw his hands down in frustration as another chance went begging. Leite got in front of another ball played in to Alaba. Then again in front of Rodrygo. Rönnow snaffled another from him, spinning like a top in desperate search of the ball this time.

The Unioner kept on singing from up in the Gods, and still the clock ticked interminably down. There were five minutes added on. Then there were only four. Kral caught Bellingham, and Union retreated for the free kick. Aljoscha Kemlein, who has passed from Union's youths to this greatest of stadiums, got in front of Valverde’s shot. Kroos bent one towards the back post but Paul Jaeckel, who’d replaced the tiring Bonucci, headed clear.

Then there were two.

Just 120 seconds to hold on... until, ultimately, cruelly, Union’s hearts were broken. Kroos took a corner short, Valverde took a touch, took it on, drove into the crowd and the ball spilled away, leaving Bellingham to jab it over the line on the turn. The Unioner were stunned, it had been so close.

Rönnow was almost speechless after game. "When you are 0-0 after 90 minutes at the Bernabeu and lose to a goal like that..." Behrens added to that, speaking of his "mixed emotions." "Of course I'm extremely disappointed to lose after playing so well," he said. "But I'm also proud that we could hold Madrid so well away."

Fischer and his side can take much from this bitter lesson, this sudden hardship. "We are disappointed, of course," he said as the dust was still settling. "But when you're one minute short of taking a point from Madrid, that's understandable. In the end, I'm proud of the team's performance... After the break, we hardly got any respite, but luck was on our side several times. All in all, Real are probably the deserved winners."

And as this cavernous arena emptied immediately, as quickly as the theatre after a disappointing opening night, the Unioner started up singing again.

“Always look on the bright side of life”, they sung. To their eternal credit, they always do.

A Historic Match

Match preview

On Wednesday, 20.09.2023, 1. FC Union Berlin will play a match in the UEFA Champions League for the first time in the club’s history, when they face Spanish record champions Real Madrid. Kick off at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu is at 18:45. 

The opponents

35-time Spanish champions, 20-time cup winners and record Champions League winners - Real Madrid are a club defined only by superlatives. As early as the 1950s, Real were among the world's best and won the European Cup five times in a row between 1956 and 1960. President Santiago Bernabéu, who led Real between 1943 and 1978, is considered the father of this success, having been instrumental in professionalising the club, signing stars such as Alfredo Di Stéfano, Ferenc Puskás, Raymond Kopa and Günther Netzer, as well as building a new stadium  that bore his name from 1955 and still does to this day. 

Bernabéu died in the summer of 1978. After a short lean period in the following years, "Los Blancos" celebrated great successes again from the mid-1980s onwards, winning the UEFA Cup in 1985 and 1986, and celebrating the Spanish title five times in a row. From 1990 onwards, however, Real temporarily lost their dominance of domestic football to FC Barcelona and did not win the Primera División title again for another five years. 

At the turn of the millennium, the era of the "Galacticos" began. After the entrepreneur Florentino Pérez was elected president, he brought the stars of world football to the Spanish capital. One after the other, Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo, David Beckham and Michael Owen signed up to play in the Spanish capital. It was Zidane who scored the winner with a sublime volley in Real's victory in the 2002 Champions League final against Bayer Leverkusen. After his professional career, the Frenchman took over as coach in 2016, winning Europe’s premier club competition three times in a row with an all-star star ensemble, which included Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale. 

Toni Kroos, the brother of long-time Union player Felix, also played a significant role in these successes from midfield. The Greifswald born player still wears the Real jersey to this day.

Carlo Ancelotti has been coach at Madrid since 2021. In his first season, he won a double of the championship and the Champions League. The Italian would like to repeat this success before taking over the Brazilian national team in the summer of 2024. However, during the transfer period he had to cope with the departure of his best striker Karim Benzema, who moved to Saudi Arabia, in addition, both keeper Thibaut Courtois and defender Éder Militao are out with torn cruciate ligaments. Top striker Vinicius Junior is also injured. However, the performances of former Dortmund player Jude Bellingham, who has already scored five times this season and has thus played a major role in Real being top of the domestic league after five match days, give cause for hope. 

The Personnel

Rani Khedira, Laurenz Dehl and Robin Knoche will not be available for selection on Wednesday due to injury. Janik Haberer is suspended due to his two yellow cards in Union’s last Europa league match against Royale Union Saint-Gilloise

The coaches’ views ahead of the match

"Real are a team with enormous individual quality, and their success in recent years speaks for itself,” said Fischer during his press conference on Wednesday afternoon in Madrid. “For us, it will be a matter of working well against the ball while remaining courageous going forwards. You also need possession against an opponent such as them. If you just it back, it will be difficult." He added, "This game is a reward for our great performances last season." 

Real boss, Ancelotti, said shortly before, "We want to start well in the group stage, and tomorrow we have the chance to do so at home. We are playing against an opponent who are well organised, penetrative and solid. We will need an intense game. Union Berlin are a new club in the Champions League, but the fact that they are in it means they did a very good job last season. The luck we coaches have these days is that we can learn everything possible from the opponent. We have studied Union well."

Service info 

3,840 Unioners will be in the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu to support their team, and there are no more away tickets tickets available. Important information about going to the stadium in Madrid can be found here. The match will be broadcast live on DAZN. As usual, Union will also provide updates on the match via the club's own live ticker, as well as in both English and Spanish on Twitter.

AFTV Videos


Real Madrid vs 1. FC Union Berlin

75 % Possession 25 %
92 % Pass Completion Rate 71 %
54 % Successful Tackle Rate 46 %
32 Shots on Goal 4
26 Crosses 9
4 Caught Offside 1
1 Yellow Cards 1
0 Yellow-Red Cards 0
0 Red Cards 0