By Peter Vice @ViceytheSS
Thrice the Berliners fell behind their Belgian guests. Thrice they equalized. The Köpenickers thus head into the return leg next week all tied up with their opponents.
|Sven Michel.||Photo: 1. FC Union Berlin|
Urs Fischer’s “Eisern Union” made up for some bad passing errors on the newly laid sod at the Stadion An der Alten Försterei on Thursday night. Despite falling behind three times, however, the Köpenickers were able to dig out a 3-3 draw and give themselves plenty of hope of advancing to the 2022/23 Europa League quarterfinals.
Facing the Belgian side for the third time this season, FCU trainer Fischer made just one change to his recent league XI. Norwegian Morten Thorsby played in place of Aïssa Laidouni in the buttressing attacking position in Fischer’s regular 3-5-2. Union sought to be the first home team to capture a win in the “battle of the Unions”. In both previous meetings during the Europa League group phase, the visiting team earned 1-0 victories.
Hosting Union brought plenty of ideas to the pitch on both regular builds and the counter in the early stages. A sustained spell of early pressure nearly paid off when Sheraldo Becker got the first shot on target in the 9th. Saint-Gilloise keeper Anthony Moris had to clear away for a corner. Thorsby headed just wide on the ensuing corner.
The guests hardly found their way into the match at all. Josip Juranovic forced another save out of Moris in the 16th off another corner. The Union 60 keeper had trouble hanging onto Juranovic’s powerful header, recovering just in time to get ahead of several lurking Berlin attackers. Gilloise head coach Karel Geraerts’ “Unionistes” then scored against the run-of-play in the 28th.
Striker Victor Boniface executed a long-range distance shot off the turn from about 20 meters out. Most unfortunately for the German hosts, the effort deflected in off Kevin Behrens. Buoyed by the opening goal, the guests had a much easier time shutting down die Eisernen offensively for much of the duration of the half.
After a prolonged spell of choppy play from Fischer’s men, Juranovic was able to snatch the equalizer just before the break. The Croatian international made the most of a set-piece in a dangerous position, scoring on a direct free-kick from about 18 meters out in the 41st. Regrettably, the guests were able to retake the lead twelve minutes after the restart.
A mistake in the build-up play from captain Christopher Trimmel led to an FCU ball-loss in midfield. A three-man breakaway materialized. Striker Yorbe Vertessen was the one to finish off after winger Loic Lapoussin serviced him with a lay across in the penalty area. The Köpenickers pressed hard in search of another equalizer. They came close in open play with Thorsby and Trimmel missing chances.
The eventual equalizer came from the penalty spot. Union 60 defender Christian Burgess was adjudged to have handled a ball in the box in the 67th. FCU defender Robin Knoche initially failed against keeper Moris, but was able to slam home the rebound in the 69th. The German clubs’ joy was nevertheless short lived, however, as their guests retook the lead again.
Vertessen picked up his second assist of the night while Boniface officially completed a brace in the 72nd. Again, die Eisernen fell victim to a quick counter attack following a bad ball loss in midfield. Knoche was the culprit this time. Time seemed to be running out for the hosts as, just as at the end of the first-half, heavy snowfall begin to accumulate on the still uneven newly laid Berliner pitch.
Fischer exhausted his substitute quota early. One of the newly introduced players came through just as the end of normal time elapsed. Sven Michel – who scored what would prove the winner in the FCU’s group stage fixture – slotted home a deflected Diogo Leite cross for the 3-3 in the 89th. Juranovic and Jamie Leweling added some excitement by nearly snatching the winner in injury time.
The scoreline nevertheless held.
A simultaneous Europa League kickoff saw one of Germany’s other representatives in the competition, Bayer 04 Leverkusen were able to prevail 2-0 at home over visiting Hungarian side Ferencvárosi Torna Club. A 2-0 victory for Xabi Alonso’s Werkself gives Germany’s red company team an excellent chance of advancing to the quarterfinals.