Freiburg - The stakes could hardly be higher heading into the final round of Bundesliga fixtures as SC Freiburg and FC Schalke 04 go head-to-head for a place in next season's UEFA Champions League play-off round.
In a contest even the most creative Hollywood director would be hard-pushed to conceive, fourth-placed Schalke know that avoiding defeat at the MAGE-SOLAR-Stadion will secure them a crack at Europe's premier club competition - provided Eintracht Frankfurt don't beat VfL Wolfsburg by four goals or more.
“It's going to be exciting without a shadow of a doubt,” Freiburg goalkeeper told bundesliga.com. “The script could hardly have been better.”
Freiburg, guaranteed place in next season's UEFA Europa League barring a cricket score in Hamburg, need to win to crown not only a spectacular season, but a stunning turnaround. Less than 18 months ago, the club was rock bottom of the Bundesliga. Then Christian Streich took charge and guided them to survival before sensationally leading the Black Forest outfit to the brink of Europe this time round.
Back from the brink
“We all felt as though something had changed at our winter training camp in Andalusia last year,” said Baumann. “We all wanted Christian Streich to bring us together as a unit. Things started to improve, but there were also setbacks along the way. It was the same this year. When we were fifth going into the winter break, we all felt a lot was possible.”
Freiburg's return to the European stage for the first time in over a decade represents their reward for a remarkable campaign, although as Baumann added: "None of us expect juggling the Bundesliga and Europe to be easy."
By reaching the last 16 of the Champions League three times in the past six seasons, Schalke have already shown they are capable of competing on multiple fronts. “It’s every footballer’s dream to play in the Champions League,” said captain . “I want to play in it, and so do my team-mates. Everybody knows what’s at stake.”
The Royal Blues, who can count on the services of and , could clinch fourth spot with a draw, but Höwedes was hearing none of it: “You can’t just get everybody behind the ball and try not to concede. We want to win.”
Freiburg: Baumann - Mujdza, Ginter, Diagne, Sorg - Schuster, Makiadi - Schmid, Kruse - Guede, Rosenthal
Schalke: Hildebrand - Uchida, Höwedes, Matip, Kolasinac - Neustädter, Jones - Farfan, Raffael, Draxler - Huntelaar