The DFB Pokal final between SC Freiburg and RB Leipzig went the distance at Olympiastadion in Berlin on Saturday with a 1-1 draw after extra time needing penalties to decide the winner. That despite Domenico Tedesco’s side finishing with just nine men on the field as both Marcel Halstenberg and Kevin Kampl saw red as the two sides fought for their first ever major silverware.
Ultimately, it was Leipzig who won out with Freiburg suffering the heartbreak of having Christian Gunter and Ermedin Demirovic fail to score which sealed a 4-2 shootout loss. It was billed as the battle of the best of German soccer against the worst given the polarizing nature of Red Bull’s Bundesliga baby and the wholesome fairytale of Christian Streich’s men.
The underdogs made an ideal start when they took the lead after 19 minutes through Maximilian Eggestein after he was teed up by Roland Sallai. Freiburg remained in the lead heading into the second half and received a major boost after 57 minutes when Halstenberg was dismissed with a straight red card.
However, Leipzig’s star man Christopher Nkunku rescued them 14 minutes from time when he leveled from a Willi Orban assist to send the encounter to extra time. There were no further goals in the German capital although Kampl did manage to get himself a second booking two minutes from the end to be ejected.
Penalties it was and Gunter was an unfortunate early fall guy when he failed to convert Freiburg’s second effort from the spot. However, the decisive miss came from Demirovic who saw his effort hit the crossbar to hand Leipzig their first silverware and spark jubilant scenes among Die Roten Bullen ranks.
Unfortunately, the trophy lift was soured by the overriding concern on both sides for a member of stadium staff who collapsed before the victors were able to get their hands on their prize. A medical emergency was declared with an ambulance required to evacuate the victim.
Tyler Adams, the sole USMNT star involved, came on for Konrad Laimer after 99 minutes but did not take a Leipzig penalty as Nkunku, Orban, Dani Olmo and Benjamin Heinrichs converted theirs. Despite the bitter manner of their defeat, Freiburg can be proud of themselves for reaching the final and for qualifying for the UEFA Europa League group stage via the German Bundesliga.
As for Leipzig, they scraped a UEFA Champions League spot through the league and have now tasted their first ever major success after Tedesco completed a midseason salvage operation after Jesse Marsch’s short-lived stint in charge. However, it will not be the most popular domestic cup success in Europe this season given the dim view of Leipzig’s rise.
It is further confirmation of the progress they have made it recent years, though, after Champions League and Europa League semifinal outings. The challenge now will be to get back to challenging Bayern Munich at the Bundesliga summit while Freiburg will look to enjoy their European adventure and make qualification a regular thing.