Away Days: Borussia Dortmund v Eintracht Frankfurt
Things really have gone from bad to worse for Eintracht Frankfurt since the winter break. Only one win in 16 games going into their final game of the season away to the newly-crowned champions of Germany saw the club who occupied seventh place at the winter break start the day in second bottom and were involved in a real relegation dogfight which hadn’t looked like coming at Christmas.
I set off from Manchester airport on Friday morning and was very surprised to see a group of men wearing T-shirts with the club badges of Oldham Athletic, who currently play in England’s third tier, as well as that of Eintracht. Curiosity got the better of me and so I asked if they were going to the game on Saturday to which they said yes. It was a pleasant surprise, no doubt to the Oldham lads as well as myself, that there were quite so many English who not only wanted to go to the game but were playing an active supporting role in a club not many people in our country probably neither know nor care about. I’ve been following Eintracht since 2006 but these guys had a good 20 years experience on me so I was even more impressed by their love for the club.
I travelled to the game on Saturday morning with a fan group called EFC 11er-Freunde, about whom I wrote a piece in a previous Away Days trip to Nuremberg. With the beer flowing from just before 10am the fans were in good spirits despite the mammoth task which lay before the Eintracht team. We had to beat title winning Borussia Dortmund and hope that VfL Wolfsburg (away at Hoffenheim) and Mönchengladbach (away at Hamburger SV) both got inferior results. Upon arriving at the stadium I was surprised to bump into the Oldham group yet again as I got off the coach and our thoughts turned to the game before we had to separate into our respective areas of the Eintracht fan block. When I got into the stadium the Dortmund fans were preparing a chereography to herald their heroes and it seemed that the famous Yellow Wall, the nickname given to the massive 28,000 capacity Südtribüne which stands behind one of the goals, would generate a cracking atmosphere.
But once the game got under way the Yellow Wall resembled a real wall insofar as it didn’t make any noise for most of the first half. During the first 45 minutes Eintracht keeper Ralf Fährmann saved a penalty from Lucas Barrios whilst, at the other end, Theofanis Gekas hit the crossbar in the last minute, meaning that the game was goalless at half-time. At the same time Wolfsburg were also goalless whilst Gladbach were leading in Hamburg which meant that, if the scores remained the same after 90 minutes, Eintracht would be going down. But, just sixty seconds after the break, Eintracht took the lead through midfielder Sebastian Rode. Almost at the same time came the news that Hoffenheim had taken the lead in their game against Wolfsburg meaning that Eintracht’s destiny looked positive.
Sadly for us the hope began to fade once more in the 68th minute when Dortmund striker Lucas Barrios, following some clever play from Łukasz Piszczek, restored parity. Just four minutes later Eintracht’s world turned upside down as a Marco Russ own goal gave the champions the lead whilst Wolfsburg had turned it around in their game winning 2-1 with fifteen minutes still to play although Hamburger SV had equalized in their game against Gladbach so a bit of luck for Eintracht could still have kept die Adler up in the top flight. The last ten minutes of the game for Eintracht, however, proved to be a nightmare as substitute Marcel Titsch-Rivero, who came on in the 79th minute to replace goal scorer Rode, got himself sent off just 43 seconds later after bringing down Marcel Schmelzer in the box to give away another penalty. But one person who didn’t lose his nerve was Fährmann who, having saved a penalty from Barrios in the first half, then kept out Dede to keep a glimmer of hope alive. This hope would finally be extinguished in the last minute of the game when Barrios headed home a Robert Lewandowski cross from the right flank to secure the three points for Dortmund who could now finally begin their championship celebrations.
Strangely there were many Dortmund fans, acclaimed by the club’s stadium announcer as “the best fans in the world”, who seemed more intent on coming outside to give Eintracht fans grief about their oncoming relegation rather than see captain Roman Weidenfeller lift the Meisterschale inside the Signal Iduna Park stadion. Thankfully the heavy police presence outside ensured that trouble was kept to a minimum around the stadium as emotions ran high on both sides after the game. For the record Mönchengladbach drew 1-1 at Hamburger SV which means that the former will take place in a two-legged Relegation Play-Off match with VfL Bochum, who claimed third place in the 2. Liga on Sunday. VfL Wolfsburg, meanwhile, managed to secure 1. Liga football next season following their eventual 3-1 away win at Hoffenheim.