Fürth - With victory at relegated Greuther Fürth having all but mathematically secured SC Freiburg a place in next season's UEFA Europa League, Christian Streich’s men this weekend have the opportunity to crown an outstanding campaign by beating Schalke 04 at home to earn a tilt at the qualifying rounds of the Champions League.
Asked, in the wake of the 2-1 win in Fürth, whether an exception would be made this time to the general no-alcohol rule on the team bus back to Freiburg, Streich slightly amended club chairman Fritz Keller's earlier response (“You know our coach”), saying, “You know our team." Besides which, “I don’t have to forbid the players from doing anything, they don’t take liberties anyway. They know there's more still to come.”
Indeed. Victory over Schalke will see Freiburg defying the odds and joining FC Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Bayer 04 Leverkusen in rubbing shoulders with Europe’s greats in the Champions League next season. “I can barely believe where we are,” said Keller. “Especially when I think back to our situation 18 months ago.”
In January 2012, when Streich almost reluctantly took over the reins from Marcus Sorg, Freiburg were anchored to the bottom of the Bundesliga, an insecure, error-prone team seemingly bound for the drop. But they turned things around in remarkable fashion and a year on, with a pretty much unchanged squad, have left the more high-profile likes of Hamburger SV, Hannover 96, Borussia Mönchengladbach and VfL Wolfsburg in their wake.
On the back of a largely ineffectual first half in which they were clearly the dominant side after going behind in the third minute, Freiburg upped a gear after the restart in Fürth with Jonathan Schmid (69') and Max Kruse (78') finding the net to secure an ultimately deserved win. The maximum haul still had to be salvaged at the death however by custodian Oliver Baumann, who denied Nikola Djurdjic from the penalty spot, although even Fürth coach Frank Kramer was not complaining about the result afterwards, acknowledging the visitors' "superior technique" over the 90 minutes.
Lengthy passing sequences, reflected in a 66 per cent possession rate, underscored Baumann's analysis that Freiburg's “patience was rewarded,” while the keeper himself garnered special praise from match-winner Kruse, who said, “Oli has earned us a lot of points this season and now he got his own reward by saving the penalty.”
Baumann and Kruse subsequently stepped onto the team bus without an alcoholic beverage in sight. Streich knows his players well - and they are more than happy to keep the celebrations on ice for another week...
Christoph Ruf in Fürth / additional reporting Ben Gladwell