1.FC Union Berlin: Melanie Wagner – Elisa Schindler, Lisa Görsdorf, Pauline Gericke, Latoya Bach – Lisa Heisler, Pauline Wimmer, Hannah Kratz – Naika Reissner, Elisa Spolaczyk, Nour Youssef
FC Carl Zeiss Jena II: Rosemarie Fehr – Nelly Juckel, Leonie Wichmann, Any Adam, Lena Moll – Sophie Tlusteck, Charlin Groß, Alina Seifert – Anne-Wiebke Schmidt, Anna Marie Krafczyk, Josephine Afua Kyerewaa Bonsu
Goals: 1-0 Krafczyk, 2-0 Krafczyk, 2-1 Heiseler, 2-2 Heiseler, 2-3 Bonsu, 3-3 Reissner
It’s a measure of how strong the Women’s Regionalliga Nordost has been this season, of how competitive and tight the race for the single promotion spot is, that Union had only lost a single game, last week’s 4-2 loss away to Magdeburger FFV, yet they still found themselves in third place before the game aginst Carl Zeiss Jena II, behind city rivals Viktoria and Türkiyemspor.
Yet as they took to the pitch on Sunday they would have been excused feeling an extra weight of expectation, as Nina Hagen’s anthem rang out, doing so for the first time this season within the glorious confines of the Alte Försterei.
There was the distinctive sound of kids chattering excitedly everywhere in the stands and the sun shone down.
A first half full of goals.
Union started strongly, Naika Reissner breaking down the left before a lovely long ball was latched onto by Elisa Spolaczyk, bursting down the middle. She was stopped just before she shot by the well timed tackle of Jena centre-back, Any Adam. Union passed short around the back, they chased second balls down as Lisa Görsdorf did in the opposition half, as Kratz did in her own half, taking care, sweeping up the danger.
And Nour Youssef was everywhere, recovering the ball on the left from Sophie Tlusteck, well inside her own half.
But Jena were determined, too. They were not sixth in the congested table for nothing, and soon started pressing Union back, forcing mistakes, sewing seeds of doubt. And it was they who took the lead after 7 minutes when Anna Marie Krafczyk ran onto a stray ball on the edge of the box. She took a touch before finishing calmly past Melanie Wagner with her right foot.
It was two soon after when Krafczyk hit another one, this time from the edge of the box past Wagner. Union’s keeper had no chance.
The Union players took a moment after that to come together as Naika Raissna left the pitch with a knock. They formed a huddle, they shook themselves down. But they were struggling to impose themselves on a disciplined Jena side. Youssef increasingly having to track back, to close down the spaces being exploited by Jena. She had to sprint 30 yards onto a superb pass out by Pauline Gericke on half an hour but was muscled off the ball by Nelly Juckel, just as she made a superb sliding challenge on Adam. She would be seen pounding the floor in pain when caught studs up, on the shin as half time loomed.
And Union also had to contend with Josephine Afua Bonsu, a permanent threat cutting in from the right, and she shot just wide as she jinked her way down the inside after quarter of an hour.
Union’s first real chance came soon after as Hannah Kratz hit a well directed drive, after some lovely, dancing, twisting, play by the captain Lisa Heiseler, but it was just too close to Rosemarie Fehr in the Jena goal. Heiseler was growing increasingly troublesome for Jena’s defenders, she has a lovely touch, an instinctive sense of where to find space from the tip of midfield, and a lazer-eyed focus. So it was with a certain inevitablity that it would be her who scored Union’s first after 22 minutes, a chipped cross in by Pauline Wimmer volleyed home by the captain from around the penalty spot with a flourish.
And the Unioner cheered and they danced and they sung all the hits. They stood up when they were implored to, they told how beautiful Köpenick is, as they chanted of their pride and their team and their love, just as they do every other week here.
Heiseler was taking all the responsibility on, herself. She was close to the equaliser when capitalising on Hannah Kratz’s run into the box after 25 minutes. She set up Reissner soon after that, but would alsobe on hand to tackle Adam in the centre circle when needed, too.
Union’s second came from the move of the match. Lisa Gösdorf found Luise Wildner, who moved the ball out to Reissner on the left, she cut inside and crossed into the box where Heiseler, again, was there to score past a flat-footed Fehr.
But then Jena hit back, a misplaced touch from Gericke left the ball at Bonsu’s toe, she pulled her shoulders back and rounded Wagner with ease, stroking the ball into an unguarded net.
Union equalise, but can’t finish the game off.
The Unioner were out first, and had the first chance of the half when Reissner latched onto Görsdorf’s clever ball, it was only the efforts of Bonsu, tracking back, that prevented her getting a better shot on target. Her cross then towards Spolaczyk a few moments later was only a couple of inches too high, having evaded the attentions of Alina Seifert this time. Reissner was at the heart of a much better display already, being a hair’s breadth from Kratz’s clever diagonal ball with 25 minutes to go. Union were pushing higher in midfield and along the flanks. But that would leave gaps, particularly for Bonsu to run into. It took a combination of both Wimmer and Görsdorf to stop her ten minutes in. Görsdorf was a rock at the back, growing in authority as the match wore on.
Bonsu would drift up and down, a drop of the shoulder here, a backheel there, like she was a modern day Socrates. She winced under a lunge when she dared to come inside. Her’s and Reissner’s battle down that flank was compelling stuff. She would flash wide with her right foot from a tight angle near the end.
But it would be Raissner who came out best, equalising after an hour, rounding Fehr having jinked her way into the box, two floundering defenders in her elegant wake. She rolled the ball over the line with a preternatural calm.
And when victory seemed within their grasp, it was Heiseler, of all people, who flashed a header wide after 67 minutes, when all she had to do was find the goal, she was all alone, Youssef’s cross, pin-point.
Union pushed for a winner. Raissner won a free kick on the edge of the box, her shirt pulled back as she escaped, the Jena defender lucky to get only a yellow card. Luca Scheel bent it over the bar though. The keeper, Fehr, then just made it out in time as Youssef completed another off those lungbusting sprints, chasing what most would consider a lost cause, but being beaten to the ball by only a whisker in the end.
Heiseler hit the bar with a wonderful left-footed drive after Spolaczyks pull back with ten minutes to go. She was now playing as a straight number ten. Union pushed and pushed, Raissner’s ball to Splaczyk resulting in a horrible crunch between her and Krafczyk. There was a scramble after Heiseler’s free kick lead to Youssef’s shot getting booted away, along with her right knee.
Youssef’s frustrated cry into the evening sky could be heard from a mile away.
Things got bad tempered and a game that had ebbed and flowed got frayed at the edges. Lena Moll brought down Unions Spolaczyk, Adam had words for Raissner. Melisa Collaku dragged back Lina Krauss, getting a yellow in the process. Seifert then pushed over Krauss. It took a combination of both Adam and Bonsu to double team Heiseler with a minute to go. Union’s Krauss bent the resulting free kick agonisingly wide.
It was desperate, superb, stuff. In the end Union had done well to drag themselves back into the game, and would rue their missed chances as they trouped around the pitch after the final whistle, lapping up the adoring cheers of the 1,300 fans in attendance.
It had been a fitting spectacle on a grand stage. All it lacked was the final finish.