The dream is alive, progress is suddenly very close: Union Berlin has the first knockout round of the Europa League in its own hands. The Bundesliga leaders defeated Sporting Braga 1-0 (0-0) on Thursday evening and secured a final at leaders Union Saint-Gilloise with their third win in a row.
When World Cup candidate Robin Knoche took a penalty, Urs Fischer didn’t even want to look. The Union Berlin coach buried his face in his hands, only when loud cheers broke out in the An der Alten Försterei stadium did Fischer lift his head on the sidelines and smile contentedly.
You could rely on Knoche, the central defender, who is said to be in the provisional World Cup squad of national coach Hansi Flick, ensured the acclaimed 1-0 (0-0) of the Bundesliga leaders against Sporting Braga with his confidently converted penalty (68th).
“It was pure joy, relief. Especially when you have a game that didn’t exactly offer many chances. We played the lucky punch and now it’s in our own hands,” said Knoche. “The pressure wasn’t that great” against Braga, he said: “We knew what was at stake and just tried to focus our performance on the pitch.”
Suddenly, progress in the Europa League is very close for Berliners, with a win in Brussels on the final day of the game at leaders Union Saint-Gilloise, Union would definitely reach the intermediate round in second place. The Bundesliga team got off to a bad start in the competition with two defeats.
Against Braga, who had won the first leg 1-0, the Fischer team immediately looked for a way forward. With the well-known virtues of passion, cohesion and will, Union initially pushed the guests to their own penalty area. However, the technically experienced Portuguese were able to elegantly free themselves from the grip, repeatedly bridging the midfield handsomely. The first assault of the Bundesliga ended.
Union Berlin wins thanks to a penalty goal by Robin Knoche
There weren’t any great chances for either side at first. Morten Thorsby headed wide from a corner (30′), ten minutes later captain Christopher Trimmel headed over the goal from five yards out. Braga often tried from a distance.
Union came stormy out of the cabin. However, the playful solutions were still lacking, and so long balls were the frequently chosen means of overplaying the Portuguese defense. Cheered on by their supporters, who will be absent from Brussels because of the Malmö riots, the actions of the Berliners became more hectic.
After a cross from Janik Haberer, Braga’s Fabiano grabbed the ball. After minutes of communication with the video assistant, referee Craig Pawson watched the scene himself – and awarded a penalty. Bone stayed cold. Braga responded with furious attacks.
1. FC Union Berlin – Sporting Braga: The dates of the match-
Berlin: Rönnow – Doekhi, Knoche, Leite – Trimmel, Khedira, Thorsby (46th Schäfer), Haberer (90+4th Haraguchi), Ryerson – Siebatcheu (63rd Behrens), Becker (90+1st Leweling).
Braga: Matheus – Silva (80th Banza), Tormena, Oliveira, Sequeira (90+1 Djaló) – Medeiros (75th Rodrigues), Al Musrati, Castro (75th Horta) – Vitinha, Ruiz, Horta.
Goal: 1: 0 Knoche (68th, hand penalty after video evidence)
Yellow cards: Thorsby, Ryerson – Silva, Castro, Ruiz