KEvin Trapp collapsed on the lawn with joy. Luca Pellegrini, who in the spring, when Eintracht Frankfurt sensationally won the Europa League, followed the sometimes breathtaking activities of the Hessians on the international stage from a distance because he was still playing for Juventus Turin, was the first to run towards him. They beamed, they hugged each other, while only a few meters away from them around 3000 Eintracht fans who had traveled with them celebrated the 2-1 (0-1) win at Sporting Lisbon in their block – and the associated entry into the round of 16 of the Champions League.
It was a historic success. One that they will still be talking about in many years around Eintracht. Because on Tuesday evening they were the first debutants in the premier class to qualify for the round of the last 16 teams – and not even in a game in which they had to worry about progressing because of the group constellation just under fifteen minutes before the end they would have qualified for the Europa League. But things turned out differently.
“We have achieved something great”
“Those are really big feelings. One event after another happens here. I think we made history again today. That’s great fun. We’ve played very well in the last few weeks and we confirmed that again today,” said Trapp, the national goalkeeper, on an evening reminiscent of the evening in Barcelona when Eintracht – accompanied by almost 35,000 supporters – beat the big FC Barcelona 3-2 or on the night of Seville when Eintracht finally won the Europa League in the final against Glasgow Rangers, taking their first international title in 42 years.
“Insane,” said Trapp on Tuesday evening in an interview with DAZN and looked over at the supporters: “I noticed that some didn’t come into the stadium and yet so many are spread out there now. We also wanted to give something back to the fans.” Trapp praised the team, which is much more solid now that a few weeks have passed since the start of the season in August. “If you see how we played against Sporting (0:3, d. R.) dealt with the backlog and then how we did it today, then that’s just a big difference. Much more mature, much calmer. It’s just nice that we can reward ourselves with the round of 16 today.”
Because Tottenham Hotspur scored the 2-1 winner at Olympique Marseille in the last minute in the parallel game, Eintracht is second in Group D, otherwise it would have even been the group win. It didn’t matter to the fans, they kept singing about “Europe’s best team”. Trapp said: “We jumped from third or fourth place to second. We have achieved something great. This is fantastic.”
Arthur Gomes (39th) put the Portuguese ahead in front of 41,744 spectators in the first half before the Hessians turned the game around. Sebastian Rode, the captain, who came on for Jesper Lindström in the second half and took over the baton, played a key role in this. Rode brought momentum into the game – and a certain aggressiveness. Frankfurt, which ran a little more than five kilometers more than their opponents after the break, was suddenly much more present, much more agile. Rode directed a team that showed that they really wanted to win. The progress.
After a handball from Sebastián Coates, it was Daichi Kamada who took charge in 62nd place and took the penalty. The Japanese smiled away at laser pointer attacks from the spectator stands. He converted safely and brought his team back into the game with the 1-1. In the 72nd minute, the extremely active Kolo Muani broke through on the right and, after preliminary work by Ansgar Knauff, shot a powerful shot into the far post. The jubilation was great – and of course it got even bigger after the final whistle.
In the footsteps of Villarreal
Rode, the game changer, received a small trophy as “player of the game”. He deserved it – in just 45 minutes that he was on the field, he had the most tackles of any player: 17.
“If you then show this will, this belief, this passion, then you’ll be lucky with the penalty kick,” said Oliver Glasner, Frankfurt coach afterwards: “It’s amazing what the players just keep doing like they do also deal with setbacks again and again.” And how they are rewarded for it: because now games against European heavyweights like Manchester City or Paris Saint-Germain are possible in the round of 16.
Nevertheless, even after the historic round of 16 entry, Glasner did not want to approve any major celebrations. “The boys don’t know yet, but there’s no celebration today. We’ll toast, but then it’s off to bed. We’re going to pull this through to Mainz. I have a bonus for the players: in January they can start training one day later,” said Glasner, whose players are now dreaming of a second FC Villarreal.
The Spaniards sensationally reached the semi-finals of the Champions League last season. “They showed it,” said Captain Rode. CEO Axel Hellmann put it in more detail. “Top 16 in Europe, and somehow on quiet soles such a dreamy Villarreal – that’s something I can definitely imagine,” said the 51-year-old.