The match lived up to its top-billing, with Julian Draxler putting the visitors ahead in the first half. Jonathan Schmid gave Freiburg hope early in the second period, but a defensive mix-up and own goal from Julian Schuster restored the Royal Blues’ advantage, which they held onto despite a furious Freiburg reaction.
Knowing that only victory would give them a chance to rub shoulders with the continent's finest, the hosts tried to seize the initiative early on, showing no sign of nerves and plenty of attacking intent. Christian Streich’s men carved out the first chance of the game with Mensur Mujdza’s cross picking out Immanuel Höhn at the far post, but the defender wasted the opportunity.
Freiburg continued to push forwards, but they never truly threatened a well-organised Schalke defence. The Royal Blues showed them how it was done with their first meaningful attack, as Draxler netted his tenth of the season. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar teed the 19-year-old up for one of his characteristic low shots into the bottom corner from outside the penalty area.
Reaction and counter-reaction
The home team refused to accept their fate however, even though they needed two goals to join FC Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Bayer 04 Leverkusen at Europe's top table. Their belief was rewarded early in the second half when Schmid was on hand to tuck the ball in after Timo Hildebrand's save from Jan Rosenthal.
The MAGE-Solar Stadion erupted, but their joy was short lived. Just as the fans were retaking their seats, Jermaine Jones' seemingly harmless cross-come-shot trickled into Oliver Baumann’s goal after a defensive mix-up between Höhn and Schuster.
The quick response temporarily took the wind out of Freiburg’s sails and they nearly conceded a third when Jones headed over from a corner. Yet after catching their breath, the south-western side surged forward in search of an equaliser. Oliver Sorg and Max Kruse both tried their luck from distance before Cedrick Makiadi went close with a header.
But there was not going to be a late twist as Schalke held on to the points and fourth spot, leaving Freiburg with a consolation which few would have predicted at the start of the season - a place in the UEFA Europa League in 2013/14.
Line-ups and statistics