Second-division Union Berlin managed to equalize twice and ensure a 2-2 draw in the first leg of the relegation playoff against top-flight Stuttgart. The pair of away goals gives the underdogs a slight advantage.
VfB Stuttgart 2 - 2 Union Berlin
(Gentner 42', Gomez 51' — Abdullahi 43', Friedrich 68')
Germany's rather unusual promotion/relegation playoff — pitting third in the second division against third-to-last in the Bundesliga — has famously favored the top flight teams in recent years. Eight times out of 10 since the match was plucked from the ashes in 2009, the Bundesliga side retained their status at the promotion hopefuls' expense.
Union Berlin have by no means bucked this trend. At least not yet. But a 2-2 draw in Stuttgart on Thursday, plus a pair of valuable away goals, gives them more than a fighting chance in front of their home fans next Monday.
Fittingly after a miserable season for VfB Stuttgart, it was two of the club's old guard who scored their goals. Both captain Christian Gentner and goal-poacher Mario Gomez were part of Stuttgart's title-winning team way back in 2007. However, youngster Anastasios Donis was highly involved in Gentner's opener, beating two defenders, racing clear on the right flank and putting the ball on a plate for the Austrian.
Stuttgart celebrated this opening goal furiously in front of their fans, only to concede within 60 seconds.
Suleiman Abdullahi's equalizer was the pick of the night's goals. He deftly controlled a bouncing ball, taking the last man out of the equation in the process, before finishing with his right from the edge of the box.
Mario Gomez rolled back the years soon after the break, dribbling from midfield and using his body to protect the ball. His shot, on his weaker left foot, benefited from a massive deflection on its way past Rafal Gikiewicz.
However, Stuttgart let their next lead slip with slapdash marking from a corner. Turkish teenager Ozan Kabak completely lost track of Union's Marvin Friedrich, who made no mistake with his free header.
Stuttgart piled on plenty of late pressure seeking to restore their lead but ultimately to no avail. Bookmakers' underdogs Union Berlin therefore take a slight advantage back to the capital.
"It's not a dream result, but we're not yet relegated," Stuttgart's captain Christian Gentner told Eurosport after the game. Fellow scorer Mario Gomez lamented his team's defensive performance in particular, saying "we simply must be more stable at the back."