Freiburg - It might have been a glorious season for SC Freiburg if they had managed to beat FC Schalke 04 on the final day and secure a maiden berth in the UEFA Champions League.
Instead, it was just a 'great' campaign for the plucky outfit from the Black Forest. Despite the 2-1 defeat ´to the Royal Blues, Christian Streich's team ended the season in an impressive fifth place, their highest top-flight finish since 1994/95. Head coach Christian Streich was somewhat irked by the defeat to Schalke, but when all is said and done, even he will likely reflect on what has been a fantastic season for a club that has consistently punched above its weight during his eighteen-month tenure.
“The best team didn't win,” said Streich in his post-match comments, and there was evidence to support such a view. The visitors adopted a passive, cautious approach, while Freiburg dominated large phases of the proceedings. "That’s actually a compliment to us,“ said Freiburg central defender Matthias Ginter. Nevertheless, die Breisgauer only have themselves to blame for the defeat, as both goals they conceded were self-inflicted.
For the opener, scored by Julian Draxler (20’), Mensur Mujdza was flat-footed in defence, while the second arose after an uncharacteristically errant pass from the usually reliable Cedrick Makiadi. Jonathan Schmid’s equaliser was thus rendered academic, which frustrated striker Jan Rosenthal no end. "If we hadn’t been so naive, there would have been more in this game for us."
However, as acute as the immediate disappointment may have been, this has still been a remarkably successful season for Freiburg. "We've had a great year," said midfielder Julian Schuster, whose own goal proved to be the winner for Schalke. "We're disappointed now but when the dust settles, we'll be really pleased with our season."
The fans, who before the game displayed a banner saying 'Anything’s possible, nothing’s obligatory’, a sentiment that perfectly summarised the stakes in the Black Forest, were still fervent in their celebrations. Chants of "Never again in the second division!" reminded the players that the original aim this season was to avoid relegation. Not once did Freiburg resemble a side fighting the drop, never falling lower than ninth in the table in 2013.
Six players bid farewell to the club: Rosenthal, Johannes Flum, Max Kruse, Daniel Caligiuri, Ezequiel Calvente and Erik Jendrisek. Streich, who is admittedly fearful of the expectation levels rising exponentially, now wants to “find players who fit in here in terms of character, and whom we can afford."
There will be the opportunity to replace them, however. Funds will be available through earnings from transfers, the rewards of a run to the DFB Cup semi-finals and the potential earnings in Europe next season. All that makes for a positive immediate future, in spite of the final-day defeat. Streich would do well to recall his own comments before the game: "It's impossible for us to end the season badly."