It was meant to be a golden farewell for Jupp Heynckes and FC Bayern in Berlin, but underdogs Eintracht Frankfurt would spoil the party by tearing up the script. In another game marked with controversy, the DFB-Pokal final was the perfect summation of Bayern’s season.
Following the painful Champions League exit at the hands of Real Madrid, we still had the cup final to look forward to. Even the shocking 1:4 home defeat against Stuttgart the week before was not enough to spoil the party plans. It was a domestic double waiting to happen.
Not taking anything for granted
Like many Bayern fans, I was not taking anything for granted, but was expecting a happy send off for the coach in Berlin. I had even decided on the working title Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad, if just to shoehorn Meat Loaf into a football article. In the end, it all went to Hell in a Handbasket.
When Frankfurt took the lead early in the game, there was no reason to be overly concerned. When Robert Lewandowski equalised with a fortunate deflected effort, it was surely going to be a case of business as usual. Bayern were denied by the woodwork and continued to spurn opportunities as they had done against Real Madrid, but this was Eintracht Frankfurt, not the Spanish giants.
There should have been no reason to worry. Just weeks before, a collection of kids and fringe players had eased to a 4:1 over Die Adler at the Allianz. In Berlin, all of the first-choice picks were on show.
But it was clear that this was a wounded Bayern. They had lost their stick of kryptonite in Madrid, and it had not been quite the same after that. The match against Stuttgart had been billed as a celebration, but was little more than a shit sandwich. In all of the games I have witnessed in Munich, it was by far the worst.
Complacent, tired and profligate
In Berlin, the Bavarians were a mix of complacent, tired and profligate. Frankfurt, meanwhile, had come into the match with nothing to lose. For outgoing coach Niko Kovač, there was the additional opportunity to prove a point against his future employers.
The 1:3 result looks straightforward on paper, but the reality was completely different. As against Madrid, Bayern missed plenty of chances. It meant that the fine lines were going to be drawn on close calls and refereeing decisions.
With the scores level at 1:1, Kevin-Prince Boateng was allowed to get away with a handball. Moments later, Ante Rebić executed the perfect finish to restore Frankfurt’s lead. It was one of those decisions that could have gone either way, but I decided to give referee Felix Zwayer the benefit of the doubt. Had the boot been on the other foot and the goal been disallowed, I would have been pretty annoyed.
The same cannot be said of the drama that would take place deep in injury time. By this time Bayern were throwing everybody forward, including ‘keeper Sven Ulreich. When Boateng missed the ball and took out Javi Martínez, there was no doubt. It had to be a penalty. With VAR available to the referee, I was even more convinced that we would have at least a shot of taking the game into extra time.
It felt like an age. The Frankfurt players look resigned, and none of them looked like they were going to complain. But the right call didn’t come. Despite the evidence right in front of him on the touchline monitor, Zwayer signalled for a corner.
There is much to be said about the use of video technology in football. In theory, it is the perfect way of firming out those very fine lines. But when the technology is not used effectively, it is even worse than useless.
In Red Odyssey, I have argued that the “Bayern-Dusel” thing is nonsense, the product of Werder-loving yellow press hacks during the 1980s. For every last-minute (and usually fair) winner we have scored, there have been at least two going the other way, not including strange refereeing decisions.
The corner was quickly taken, and Frankfurt cleared. With Ulreich out of his goal, it was an easy task for Serbian Mijat Gaćinović to administer the killing blow. It was a particularly acrimonious ending to what had been a thrilling game of football.
Were Bayern robbed? I would not go so far, as we still had to score the penalty first. But it was not the greatest moment for Herr Zwayer or the referees’ union.
The Bayern team slunk away as the winners were presented with the trophy, and for Sandro Wagner it was the bitter cherry on top of a very nasty tasting cake. Already at a low ebb after his being left out of the German squad for the World Cup, the big striker lobbed his runners-up medal into the crowd.
This match was the perfect summary of Bayern’s season. Dominant play – 77% of the possession, and 22 shots to Frankfurt’s eight – but a story of missed opportunities compounded by questionable refereeing decisions. But this is football. It has always been a game of fine margins. It is why we all love it.
Time to wipe up the tears
While we can be disappointed that it was not the perfect send off for the coach, we have to take our collective hat off to Frankfurt. Everything else aside, we cannot take anything away from their achievement. They played out of their skins, made it hard for Bayern over the course of the ninety minutes, and took their chances.
If we can take one positive, it was the fact that this match was Niko Kovač’s last game in charge at Frankfurt. There are still question marks over his appointment in Munich, but many were answered in Berlin. His tactics were sound, and most importantly he had been able to motivate his players. He had won a match that for many had been lost before a ball had been kicked.
We are all disappointed. But back in September, could we have seen our team winning a sixth straight Bundesliga title, reaching the cup final and getting within a whisker of earning a place in the Champions League final? After all, we had been told that the wheels were coming off. Dortmund were all set to take the Meisterschale away. Leipzig were going to knock us out of the Pokal. There was no hope in the Champions League, where we had been walloped in Paris. We didn’t even have a decent goalkeeper.
If we take a step back and look at how things developed after that, we should be content. Naja. It is now time to wipe up the tears, and move on. Mia san mia.