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Vlahović spoils Freiburg’s ‘special night’

  • March 19, 2023

A single Serbian flag draped over the fence that enveloped the traveling fans in the corner of Europa Park celebrated the matchwinning performance of Juventus striker Dusan Vlahović. That told the story that this was not Freiburg’s night; the miracle wasn’t to be.

The Serbian center forward is imposing and direct and scores a lot of goals, but he had come into this game without a goal in six games. The €70 million signing from Fiorentina thought his moment had come when Bremer’s header rattled the bar and his strike partner Moise Kean had teed him up to gobble up the rebound. Wild celebrations ensued on the Juventus bench but they were cut short when replays showed Kean to have been offside.

A feisty first half had been heading towards a goalless conclusion until VAR determined the game’s turning point. Kean was involved again, angling a shot at goal which Mark Flekken saved well. Federico Gatti met the rebound and his shot was cleared off the line by Matthias Ginter and Freiburg thought they’d got out of jail.

But the referee got a message in his ear to instruct him to check the pitchside monitor, which revealed Gatti’s shot had come off Manuel Gulde’s arm. Gulde had already picked up an avoidable yellow card so two yellows became a red – and Vlahović forced the penalty over the line despite Flekken getting a leg to it.

A big-game atmosphere in Freiburg
A big-game atmosphere in Freiburg – but it was the scene of the club’s exit from the Europa League.Image: Robin Rudel/Sportfoto Rudel/IMAGO

‘A very special evening’

For Freiburg to even be competing in a Europa League last 16 contest with Juventus, albeit a shadow of their previous iterations, is testament to the stunning progress this club from the Black Forest have made under coach Christian Streich, now into his 11th full season in charge.

Freiburg didn’t look like a team reduced to ten men for the whole of the second half, continuing to apply the pressure on the Bianconeri, before substitute Federico Chiesa extinguished any lingering doubt with Juve’s second in injury time.

“This was a very special evening,” Streich said after the game. “It was a great experience for me personally as well.”

This is their third Europa League campaign under the 57-year-old and Freiburg could even make it into the Champions League next season, currently sitting level on points with third placed RB Leipzig and fourth placed Union Berlin in the Bundesliga with 10 games to play.

Freiburg coach Christian Streich revs up the home fans.
Freiburg coach Christian Streich revs up the home fans.Image: Robin Rudel/Sportfoto Rudel/IMAGO

Streich ‘appalled’ by dirty tricks

However it wasn’t all milk and honey for Streich in the post-game press conference, highlighting the time-wasting tactics used by Juventus in both legs.

“At every free kick for us in Turin and at every free kick for us today, a Turin player has taken the ball and wasted time,” Streich blasted.

“I’m completely appalled that you get fouled and then still get penalized twice. I think in Turin and today it was 40 times where someone took the ball.” However, he added that this behavior was not unique to the record Italian record champions and that it happened frequently, “even in the Bundesliga.”

As Juventus languish in seventh in Serie A following a points deduction for false accounting, Freiburg will at least be in the Europa League again next season – maybe even the Champions League. They ultimately came up short in this two-legged contest with Juventus, but the appetite has been whetted for more big European nights. That alone shows how far this club have come.

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