FC Schalke 04 have been an inconsistent side recently…..going deep into the Champions League last season and winning the DFB Pokal while finishing a pedestrian 14th in the Bundesliga table. But with their backs against the wall Thursday evening, down to HJK Helsinki 2-0 following the first-leg Europa League matchup, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar scored four times to lead Schalke to a 6-1 win Thursday over the Finns, advancing Die Knappen to the tournament’s group stage.
This season, Schalke started off on the right foot with a penalty kick victory over Dortmund to claim the German SuperCup, and began the defense of their Pokal crown with an 11-1 thrashing of Baden-based FC Teningen. But then came the Bundesliga opener, which saw the Royal Blues looking lackluster in losing 3-0 to Stuttgart. Schalke won its next two Bundesliga matches in impressive style by scoring nine goals and only allowing three, but again looked disorganized losing in their Europa League opener.
The 28 year-old Huntelaar opened the scoring by converting a penalty in the 15th minute of the match, and added another goal ten minutes later. But the game was still tight as Helsinki’s Teemu Pukki scored his 3rd goal of the series against Schalke and the 52,000 fans at the Veltins Arena had to have been experiencing some fears.
But the Hunter scored twice in the second half, once on a 49′ penalty and again just past the hour mark to push the game to 5-1. Teenage Greek defender Kyriakos Papadopoulos knocked in a header six minutes prior to Huntelaar’s fourth goal, and then another Schalke teenager, 17 year-old Julian Draxler, finished off the evening’s goal-scoring exhibition in the 82nd minute.
Coach Ralf Rangnick and Schalke management saved themselves a great deal of criticism with Thursday’s win. After not playing Raul in Helsinki, citing injury fears because of the artificial surface there, the iconic Spaniard was in the starting lineup for the rematch in Gelsenkirchen, as was Jefferson Farfan and Christian Fuchs. Looks like Raul will be staying in Gelsenkirchen, now that he is cup-tied, after earlier rumors that he was leaving, fueled by his absence last week in Helsinki. Good news for Schalke and Bundesliga fans, and coupled with their comeback win last weekend in Mainz, the future looks bright for the Royal Blues.
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