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Union Berlin dreaming with Freiburg caught in Becker's web

May 13, 2023

Sheraldo Becker scored twice as Union beat Freiburg 4-2 in a crunch game in Berlin. Union now look set to compete in Europe’s elite club competition, less than four years since being promoted to the Bundesliga.

Fussball Herren 1. Bundesliga 1. FC Union Berlin - SC Freiburg
Image: Matthias Koch/IMAGO

Union Berlin's next major milestone has just moved into view. The thought of this club, the first from the former East Berlin to play in the Bundesliga, reaching the Champions League was too outlandish to mention even a couple of years ago. But this is Urs Fischer's world, we're all just living in it.

"That was a bit of a rollercoaster ride," said an ecstatic Fischer. "The 4-2 came at absolutely the right time. Otherwise, the game could have tipped. We qualified for the group stage of the Europa League for the second time today. Madness. This is surreal."

But of course it will probably get a lot more surreal for Fischer and this club. Union met a Freiburg team that had themselves been on course for a first ever appearance in the Champions League until they lost momentum with back-to-back defeats by RB Leipzig, first in the Cup then the league. As Leipzig look increasingly likely to take third, Freiburg arrived in the capital locked level on points with Union and in need of all the points.

With Union needing the same from the game and ahead of their visitors by virtue of better goal difference, this was effectively a Champions League playoff, with all the rewards that brings. With status, perception, and huge financial rewards at stake, this was a game of huge magnitude to both clubs.

Sheraldo Becker whipped out a Spiderman mask after making it 2-0.
Sheraldo Becker whipped out a Spiderman mask after making it 2-0.Image: Sebastian Rappold/Matthias Koch/IMAGO

Becker a symbol of Union's ascent

Any notion that this game would be anxious and cagey was blown out of the water inside five minutes, when Kevin Behrens raised the roof with the opener.

Freiburg looked tired, their small squad fatigued from a long season, domestic and continental, and Dutchman Becker took full advantage of Freiburg's lethargy, entering the fray with a first half double that ultimately decided this contest. His first inspired him to reach to his sock to unfold a pre-packed Spiderman mask, at the cost of a yellow card. His second was a low drive under Freiburg keeper and Becker's compatriot Mark Flekken, who was slow to get down.

Three goals to the good and cruising at the break, Union seemed to be coasting through this high stakes contest in the only pocket of Germany that seems to have welcomed summer. But not so fast; an unlikely comeback was stirring deep within Christian Streich's side. First Manuel Gulde pulled one back, then on 70 minutes, Vincenzo Grifo paneka'd his penalty beyond Frederik Rønnow. Grifo almost messed it up, not quite putting enough on it, with the ball brushing Rønnow's fingertips on the way through.

Union Berlin captain Christopher Trimmel salutes the home fans
Union Berlin captain Christopher Trimmel played against Freiburg in 2016 when it was a Bundesliga 2. fixture.Image: Matthias Koch/IMAGO

But that's as close as Freiburg got. Union steadied the ship and with 10 minutes to go, sealed the deal through Tunisian international Aissa Laidouni, who capped a swift Union counterattack by stroking the ball into the net from Becker's pass. It was Laidouni's first goal for Union, since signing from Ferencvaros in January, and couldn't have been timed much better.

And it was fitting that Becker should be involved too, he ended the game with two goals and two assists and has seven assists and 11 goals in the Bundesliga this season – his best season in a Union shirt. Having joined the club in 2019 and been there through their Bundesliga odyssey, he symbolizes this club's growth.

It's only seven years since Union versus Freiburg was a Bundesliga 2. fixture. Back then, Freiburg were champions elect, bouncing back under Streich after being relegated from the top flight, and Union were dreaming of reaching the Bundesliga and becoming Berlin's biggest club. Union's ambitions have moved well beyond that but it feels like their romantic journey is only just getting started.