Eintracht Frankfurt’s minimalists in the Champions League?

Tears on the pitch, chants in the stands. When it was all over and the fourth consecutive return to Europe was complete, Makoto Hasebe went to his knees. He cried uncontrollably, arm in arm with his two small children, who ran onto the pitch after Eintracht’s 2-2 draw against RB Leipzig to be very close to their dad. The great sportsman Hasebe is now 40 years old. The oldest and most experienced Frankfurt professional footballer.

On Saturday, May 22nd, on the day that Eintracht in Sevilla won the Europa League against Glasgow Rangers exactly two years ago, Hasebe Sayonara said hello – and together with him Sebastian Rode. It was also the last time for the captain that he had the ball in a competitive game for the club he loved. The congenial duo Hasebe/Rode were there again for almost three minutes when it was time to say goodbye to a great career. As announced, Eintracht coach Dino Toppmöller brought the two into action one last time. Hasebe and Rode were actively involved at the final whistle as the dream of Europe became reality again.

The 2-2 draw against Leipzig was enough to defend sixth place in the table, which they had already conquered before Christmas. The fact that pursuers Hoffenheim defeated FC Bayern Munich 4-2 remained meaningless. Eintracht had done it on their own. Toppmölller’s team had to get a point against RB – and that’s exactly what they did. Participation in the Europa League is therefore secured. If Borussia Dortmund wins the Champions League final against Real Madrid, sixth place would mean Eintracht would even make it into the Champions League.

“Thank you for this outstanding farewell”

Leipzig had already led 2-0 thanks to goals from Xavi (42nd minute) and Benjamin Sesko (47th). But with a lot of heart, fight and passion, the Frankfurt team still managed to get the draw they needed thanks to goals from Hugo Ekitiké (51′) and Omar Marmoush with a converted penalty (69′). “A good eagle only flies as high as it has to,” said the stadium announcer when the 2-2 score was certain, referee Felix Zwayer ended the game with a final whistle – and the emotions ran rampant.

Sports director Markus Krösche bowed to Rode and Hasebe in his speech on the pitch. “You have become legends,” he said over the stadium microphone – and the spectators who had risen from their seats kept singing: “We are all Frankfurt boys.” Mathias Beck also took advantage of the moment to say goodbye to thank the two idols. “We are incredibly proud of you,” said the President of Eintracht. “You have the eagle in your heart.” Beck appointed Rode and Hasebe as lifelong club members. “You stay with us – and we stay with you.”

Hasebe addressed his farewell words specifically to the fans. “The ten years at Eintracht were great. Without you, I wouldn’t have been able to play for so long.” In his short acceptance speech, the 33-year-old Rode recalled, among other things, the European Cup game in Bordeaux, “where 12,000 of you were there. I came back to Frankfurt in 2019. I was immediately welcomed very warmly.” Rode’s time at Eintracht: “Simply unbelievable. Thank you for this outstanding farewell.”

Time for emotions. Time for emotions. On the day of the farewells, it was the fans who made the first statement. Before the start of the game, the northwest stand was completely black and white, in the colors of Eintracht, with a huge choreography spanning it. “Frankfurt’s pride forever,” it read in huge letters. Those familiar with Eintracht immediately knew who it was about: Bernd Hölzenbein, who was figuratively enthroned on the shoulders of former teammates. Those were the days when Jürgen Grabowski spun, Bernd Nickel circled and Hölzenbein completed.

Eintracht is trailing 0-2

There are no professionals like her in the current Eintracht team. If you were hoping to see a Nickel free kick goal in the last game of the season for a change, it was a no-brainer. Nothing came of the plan to immediately put RB under pressure and win the game in order to say goodbye to the break with a sense of achievement. Leipzig had something against it – and quite a bit of luck in getting the opening goal. It was extremely clever how Xavi caught Mario Götze in the penalty area and fell.

Götze waved it off, but referee Zwayer didn’t hesitate for a second. Penalty. The fouled person himself took action. On his first attempt, the referee had not yet released the ball. Lucky for Xavi, because his weak shot went wide to the left of the goal. When everything went well in the second attempt, Kevin Trapp was powerless in the Eintracht goal. This time the ball hit the right side of Frankfurt’s goal to make it 1-0 for the fourth-placed team (42nd minute). A first low blow for Eintracht, which was followed by the second one immediately after the break. Sesko made it 2-0 with a precise shot from beyond the edge of the penalty area (46th). Beaten Eintracht?

What followed will stay with you for a long time. Curious but true: In the 50th minute, something extraordinary and unique happened in the Frankfurt Arena. Because Leipzig fans lit fires in the opposing fan block and heavy smoke developed, the smoke alarm in the huge video cube above the middle of the pitch was activated. The result: The game had to be interrupted because the video cube went black and fell to the ground. Inch by centimeter the colossus approached the ground, but did not reach it. Then it automatically went back up to the starting position. A process that took just under a quarter of an hour and that has never happened before during a game in the arena, which opened in 2005.

When football could be played again, Eintracht struck immediately. After a precise cross from Ansgar Knauff, Ekitiké scored the goal with his head (51st). Hope spread. Things became dangerous for Eintracht in the 57th minute when Tuta almost scored an own goal. But the ball bounced back off the post – and Xavi also hit the ball on the right goalpost in the follow-up shot.

The video assistant had to be consulted in the development of Frankfurt’s 2-2 draw. When Marmoush clashed with Henrichs in the penalty area and fell, the spectators vehemently called for a penalty. Zwayer was cautious, but then, after the call from the Cologne basement, he went to the television, watched the scene again calmly – and decided on a penalty. Marmoush, one of the assets in Toppmöller’s team, didn’t miss the chance and scored the equalizer (69th).

A goal of particular importance, because around 100 kilometers further south, pursuers Hoffenheim were leading Bayern 4:2 in the Sinsheim Arena. A result that the Kraichgau team held on to. But because nothing changed at the 2:2 in the Frankfurt Arena, Eintracht’s big goal had been achieved. Back in Europe. For the fourth time in a row. And for the first time and for good in the future without two who now officially have “legendary status” at Eintracht: Sebastian Rode and Makoto Hasebe. “I’m glad that we crossed the finish line and were able to say goodbye to Makoto and Seppl in sixth place,” said coach Toppmöller. “The atmosphere in the stadium was incredible. It was a rollercoaster of emotions. Eintracht Frankfurt probably only knows drama.”

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