A sold-out Borussia-Park played host to a great display of football between Europa League defending Champions Sevilla FC and one of the competition’s most impressive sides so far, Borussia Mönchengladbach. An own-goal from skipper Martin Stranzl and a brace by Sevilla forward Vitolo left Lucien Favre’s men rueing a series of missed chances, mulling over some defensive mishaps and contemplating the rest of the season without European football. After Stranzl turned into his own net under pressure from Bacca, Borussia always faced an uphill struggle hauling themselves into the Europa League’s last sixteen, but goals from Granit Xhaka and Thorgan Hazard – fresh from signing his permanent deal with the club on Monday – lent fans of die Fohlen some hope of progression.
The hope of progression, and the game itself, seemed to feature more twists than an incredibly contrived film plot, with goals constantly changing the face of the game, a sending off for Borussia’s influential midfield general Xhaka, and a string of woeful decisions by referee Marijo Strahonja leading to the end result, and ultimately an edge-of-the-seat ninety minutes.
Borussia started the brighter, attacking brightly, but Sevilla set their stall out as in the first leg, knowing that die Fohlen would have to score – probably twice – to get even close to qualification. The first chance of the game, however, came virtually from nothing, with a combination of errors – Oscar Wendt being caught out of position, Alvaro Dominguez neither challenging Vidal on the wing or going into the box to help his colleagues out, and Stranzl being caught unawares in a rare moment of defensive instability for Borussia this season – putting them a goal behind, with Stranzl flicking the ball agonisingly past Yann Sommer.
Borussia would now need at least three goals to go through, and this showed in how they approached the game in the immediate aftermath of Sevilla’s opener. Sevilla sat even deeper in defence, allowing gaps to emerge in the midfield which the likes of Xhaka, Christoph Kramer, Patrick Herrmann and Raffael combined excellently to work around, with the ball eventually working into space, finding the unlikely source of Alvaro Dominguez – playing at centre back – to leather a shot just over from 25 yards. It was a similar move which, minutes later, worked the ball into the box, allowing Xhaka to play a neat one-two with Herrmann and rifle a low shot through Sevilla’s goalkeeper, Sergio Rico.
With one of three goals scored early on, surely the hope was still there for Borussia Mönchengladbach and their fans? Well, it was, but the hope was to take another big hit minutes later. Tony Jantschke missed a tackle in Sevilla’s half, which released Vitolo, whose run from the halfway line evaded everyone in the Borussia defence, as the Spaniard reached the area and sprayed a tidy effort past the arm of Sommer. It was a sucker punch to a Borussia side which had grown into the game and looked capable of causing real damage to Sevilla, caught incredibly open (perhaps naively so) on the break and back to square one.
The Foals did come back into the game slightly fortuitously minutes later, however. Raffael’s attempt was deflected through the Sevilla rearguard, finding an onside Hazard who slotted under Rico for his side’s second of the evening, and the fourth in just under half an hour. The game had been played at an absolutely frenetic pace and with another two goals needed for Gladbach if they were to progress, it looked set to remain that way
Xhaka missed a chance from a corner – the ball reaching him in the box and catching him unaware, unable to get a shot away – before Kramer and Kruse tried shots from almost identical positions on the edge of the box, both of which narrowly missed. That was that for an insane first half, and with just two goals needed to progress, Borussia looked a reasonably good bet for progression.
The second half began in a similar vein of Borussia pressure and Sevilla non-action in an attacking sense, with a virtual siege taking place in front of Borussia-Park’s Nordkurve. Hazard fired narrowly over, Stranzl only managed to get a feeble shot off from a corner after a dummy from Hazard, Max Kruse had a shot go narrowly over before Xhaka forced a good save from Rico. All of this was punctuated by a slew of corners to the hosts, none of which coming to anything but giving the impression of domination to both the fans watching the game and the Borussia players on the pitch, making the Sevilla breakaways all the more frustrating, and in one case devastating.
Sevilla’s first big chance of the half was relatively early on, as Bacca charged down the middle, completely evading an out-of-sorts Dominguez, and drawing a stunning stop from Sommer in the Mönchengladbach goal. Moments later, though, the game was to change.
Firstly, Borussia (through Kruse) were denied a stone-wall penalty for a handball. The ball was trickling slowly into the net and but for a handball would’ve gone in, but referee Stahonja decided utterly bafflingly not to award anything, the ball eventually being hacked clear. Xhaka then received a second yellow for a stupid challenge on the far touchline, making the task fro Favre’s men abundantly trickier. It was about to get a lot more tough, too. The next big Sevilla chance, would prove the decider – on the night, in the tie, and from a Mönchengladbach perspective, for the rest of the season.
Kevin Gameiro threaded a ball through the Borussia defence towards Vitolo, who raced through and tucked a drive past Sommer. With just ten minutes left, it put Borussia on the brink of elimination, and ultimately proved the final nail in the coffin for the Foals.
There was time for Hazard to hammer a free kick over Sevilla’s bar, but the game ended relatively limply. The final ten minutes were perhaps more notable for the incredible display from the Mönchengladbach faithful, lauding their heroes with a stunning rendition of “die Seele brennt”. They’d made a lot of noise all evening, completely overpowering the mere 180 travelling fans, but it was a wonderfully poignant moment at the end of an exciting campaign in Europe. One thing’s for sure; Borussia-Park will be playing host to more chants of “Europapokal!” in the very near future, and in the meantime, die Fohlen should have a good end to the season. This was a better attacking performance than at any point before in the Rückrunde so far, even if the defensive side of the game was somewhat lacking, and Borussia should enter their games during the rest of the season without the disadvantage of playing on Thursday and Sunday.
That’s clutching at straws to find positives after a bitter loss, perhaps, but is still somewhat true. Going out at the Round of 32 is upsetting, but isn’t the end of the world. After all, there’s still the DFB-Pokal, and the Bundesliga isn’t mathematically impossible.
Borussia Mönchengladbach 2:3 (2:2) Sevilla FC
Stranzl OG 8., Xhaka 19., Vitolo 26., Hazard 29., Vitolo 79.
Mönchengladbach: Sommer; Jantschke (Johnson, 78.), Stranzl, Dominguez (Hrgota, 78.), Wendt; Hazard, Kramer, Xhaka, Herrmann (Traore, 72.); Raffael; Kruse (4-4-1-1).
Sevilla: Rico; Figueiras, Carrico, Kolodziejczak, Trelouminas (Navarro, 82.); Krychowiak, Iborra; Vidal, Banega (Mbia, 65.), Vitolo; Bacca (Gameiro, 78.) (4-2-3-1).
Iborra 30., Rico 45., Bacca 45., Hazard 55., Vidal 66., Kramer 69., Gameiro 90.
Xhaka (Two Yellows) 32. 68.