In 120 seconds, Mainz went from being seriously relegation-playoff bound to staying in the top division in Germany. Mainz scored twice in two minutes in a spate of four goals in the final half hour to defeat Eintracht Frankfurt 4-2 in the Rhein-Main derby.
Mainz came into Saturday tied with Hamburger SV, who were in the relegation playoff spot, on points. Mainz was only safe from the playoff due to a better goal differential. While Mainz dictated the tempo and possession at midfield for much of the first half, their efforts mostly fell flat. Miscommunication, lack of awareness in front of goal, and Frankfurt’s tight defense killed them for the first 45 minutes. Frankfurt capitalized on one of their two chances of the half. Branimir Hrgota cut through two Mainz defenders to bring down a cross 10 yards from goal. The 24 year-old took one touch then smashed the ball far post. After a quick look at the linesman, the Swedish international celebrated his effort and the halftime lead.
Hrgota caused more trouble in the first minutes of the second half, and caused Mainz more headaches as he provided on the strange goal credited to Haris Seferovic, who was in the right place at the right time as Mainz keeper Jannik Huth tried to kick away Hrgota’s headed shot that slithered down from the goalkeeper’s grasp onto the goalline. Huth’s attempt bounced off Seferovic into the goal, leaving Mainz in serious trouble of facing a relegation playoff, trailing by two goals with 40 minutes to play … and perhaps in even worse straits if Ingolstadt managed to win on Saturday.
The Mainz spark came in the 60th minute. Jhon Cordoba got on Fabian Frei’s boot upfield, streaking behind the Frankfurt defense before firing a shot near post past Frankfurt keeper Lukas Hradecky. It was a bit of quality, and a start, the start of a team finding the will to survive.
Mainz tied the match up after Stefan Bell header off a Daniel Brosinski free kick bounced past the keeper just inside the right post. In just two minutes, the season turned from the dreaded drop to perhaps saved, as the 05ers had the match level.
But why just maybe save the season when one can certainly save it? Halftime sub Yoshinori Muto turned into the savior in the mess of noise surrounding the pitch, both sets of fans fighting with words over the pitch. This is what a derby is supposed to look like, sound like. And Muto added to the fireworks with his goal less than 15 minutes from time. Mainz, which was dead just a quarter-hour earlier, was very much alive now. A Pablo De Blasis penalty in injury time nearly confirmed Mainz would stay up. With fans streaming on the pitch, they had to wait for the soaked Wolfsburg-Mönchengladbach match to finish before they could celebrate. Once it ended in a tie, team and fans cheered arm in arm about their near certain survival on the pitch. Even the stadium announcer could not hold back his emotions, screaming “Jawohl! Jawohl!”
“I have said very clearly that we have to stay in the league,” said Mainz coach Martin Schmidt after the match, before rejoining the celebration. Mainz currently sits in a three-way tie just above the playoff spot, but holds a massive +7 goal differential over 14th place FC Augsburg and a +8 differential over Wolfsburg.
Though Mainz won’t compete in European competition next year, like the tifo before the match said, they are 100% for the first league.
Header photo courtesy of Mainz official website. Second photo by @Kai_Dambach.