FC Cologne coach Peter Stöger may have called for caution after the Billy Goats edged toward a European spot next season with victory against rivals Werder Bremen, but goalkeeper Timo Horn called on his team-mates to power over the finish line with just two games to go.
Following a run of four games without a win, Stöger’s hosts thrilled the home faithful with a 4-3 victory against a Werder team who had won nine of their previous eleven encounters. Indeed, so impressive was the Green-Whites' surge up the table, that it was they, and not Cologne who looked the more likely for a European berth. Yet following Friday’s festival of football, it’s once again advantage Cologne, now that they edge Werder on goal difference.
“It was a mad game, and a completely exhausting experience for me,” a jaded but visibly delighted Stöger said after a contest in which his team had led 2-0 and 4-2. “We know we put in a good game and managed to beat an opponent who hadn’t lost for an incredibly long time,” the tactician added, before admitting his players were “physically destroyed,” after a dramatic evening. “But we still have two games to go,” Stöger said, warning those connected to the Billy Goats not to start the celebrations just yet.
“If we can fulfil the dream of qualifying for European competition, [our fans here] will go crazy,” midfielder Leonardo Bittencourt – who starred with a headed goal and two assists against Bremen – said. Indeed, Bittencourt was closely rivalled for his man-of-the-match nod by two-goal local hero Anthony Modeste and Lukas Klünter.
“The guys here know that when I get into the six-yard box I normally score with my head because my timing is pretty good – but the thing is, I don’t normally go there because physically, we could say I’m a slight underdog,” the 1.71m Bittencourt said with a smile.” Of Bittencourt’s goal, Cologne’s Matthias Lehman joked, “Leonardo was in the gym a lot this week in order to physically prepare himself for that,” the captain adding, “He came in to meet a super ball and headed it cleanly home.”
That goal put the home team 2-0 ahead yet the visitors never gave up, and even managed to pull level thanks to strikes from Fin Bartels and Theo Gebre Selassie. Yet another Bittencourt header – this time in the form of a pass – led to the move that saw Simon Zoller put Cologne back in front before the break. Modeste’s 25th goal of the season extended that lead after the restart before a Serge Gnabry goal set up a dramatic finale in which goalkeeper Timo Horn admitted the home fans at the RheinEnergieSTADION played a crucial role.
“They were decisive,” the custodian said of Cologne’s supporters. “Their presence really played to our advantage and they kept us alert when we were pushed back. The noise was incredible and that’s what makes you go that extra mile in the end,” Horn admitted.
Next up for the Billy Goats – seeking a first European adventure since the 1992/93 campaign – is a Matchday 33 encounter against Bayer Leverkusen next weekend. Speaking about that game, Horn said, “Die Werkself are not enjoying the type of run they would like to be on so we have to go there being aggressive – just as we did in our last three games. If we do that, we have the possibility of picking up another three points,” the 23-year-old concluded.