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Frankfurt write new chapter in Champions League story

November 2, 2022

Eintracht Frankfurt staged a stunning comeback in Lisbon to beat Sporting Club de Portugal and book their place in the last 16. Frankfurt’s matchwinner was Randal Kolo Muani – but unsung hero Sebastian Rode was key.

Eintracht Frankfurt's players celebrate with the traveling support in Lisbon
Frankfurt finish on 10 points, the highest group stage tally for a Champions League debutant since Leicester in 2016.Image: HMB Media/IMAGO

Strength. Control. Technique. In one fluid movement, Randal Kolo Muani rolled defender Goncalo Inacio, brought the ball under his spell with his chest, and unleashed an explosive volley across keeper Antonio Adan and into the bottom corner. It was a strike of exquisite quality, sending this tense game and tight group into a spin.

The goal instantly sent Sporting spiraling from the top to the bottom of this wide open Group D and, in doing so, etched a new chapter in Frankfurt's history. At 1-1, a return to the Europa League, the tournament they famously won last season, beckoned. But Muani's strike ensured Frankfurt's Champions League adventure will extend into a second Act.

Muani's acquisition from French side Nantes has turned out to be a masterstroke. The 23-year-old is already the Bundesliga's top assister with nine to his name already. But this kid from the Paris suburb of Bondy has many facets to his game, one of which is his instinctive eye for goal, which has kept Oliver Glasner's side rubbing shoulders with Europe's elite.

Randal Kolo Muani scores for Eintracht Frankfurt against Sporting Club de Portugal in the Champions League
Muani's finish was of the highest quality - and proved the matchwinner.Image: Carlos Costa/AFP/Getty Images

Rode brings 'stability'

Sporting had rattled Frankfurt earlier with Arthur's opener, which had left the unfortunate Trapp wrong-footed and ignited the José Alvalade stadium as they chased qualification. But Daichi Kamada's cool penalty restored parity on the hour before Muani delivered the killer blow 10 minutes later.

That was the gloss on a battling second half performance by Frankfurt in Lisbon, with Sebastian Rode off the bench at half-time to produce a combative and controlled display that swayed the contest into the visitors' favor. The former Bayern and Dortmund midfielder drew on his experience, delivering a performance that secured a man of the match, a rare feat for a substitute, as Frankfurt had overcome a 1-0 deficit to secure a 2-1 win.

"He's the captain of the team, the head of the team,” goalkeeper Kevin Trapp told DAZN. "He only came on for the second half, so you have to manage that first. But he brought in an incredible amount of stability. Gave the team calm in every duel. And he deserved that today."

Ansgar Knauff also had an impact from the bench, laying on the assist three minutes after coming on, as Glasner got his substitutes spot on. When asked about his impact, Rode was humble in his appraisal, giving the credit to Frankfurt coach Glasner for making the change: "A good coach always has something in mind when he brings someone in. And when it works so well, it's all the nicer. That that. I'm just immensely happy when we're in the round of 16."

Eintracht Frankfurt's Sebastian Rode celebrates victory over Sporting Club de Portugal in the Champions League
Sebastian Rode came off the bench at half-time and helped change the game.Image: HMB Media/IMAGO

'More mature, much calmer'

Given their achievement last season in the Europa League, Frankfurt will go into the last 16 with confidence. Trapp believes that this game demonstrated how the team has developed.

"We have grown as a team, we are more consolidated and but also as individual players. And if you see how we dealt with the deficit today and how we dealt with the setback in the first game against Sporting, that's already a big difference," Trapp said. "We're more mature, much calmer – and that's what we've already been doing for the last few weeks."

Frankfurt's victory wasn't quite enough to see them top the group, with Tottenham Hotspur scoring an injury time winner in Marseille to take the top berth. Marseille go out, while Sporting head into the Europa League.

The Eagles will take flight in the knockout stages of the Champions League, a significant step for this set of players under this coach, as Frankfurt's European adventure continues.