The Return of the Eagles: Eintracht Frankfurt are flying back to Berlin | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 18.04.2018
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The Return of the Eagles: Eintracht Frankfurt are flying back to Berlin

Eintracht Frankfurt are into the German Cup final for the second year in a row after beating Schalke in Gelsenkirchen. Waiting for them in Berlin are Bayern Munich - Niko Kovac's future employers.

Schalke 0-1 Frankfurt (Jovic 75')
Veltins-Arena, Gelsenkirchen

Niko Kovac was furious. Eintracht Frankfurt defender Marco Russ had just caught Alessandro Schöpf on the edge of his own box and referee Robert Hartmann, somewhat belatedly, awarded a free kick in a dangerous position.

Kovac, navy sweater slung over his back, sprang out of his technical area to remonstrate, convinced that the referee's belated decision had been influenced by the outraged cries from the stands.

Perhaps Kovac was also frustrated at David Abraham's careless loss of possession on the right wing just minutes earlier, after which Frankfurt were fortunate Schalke didn't capitalize and break forward.

Either way, any thoughts of his future Bayern Munich appointment were clearly banished from his mind. His focus was entirely on his current team. Because, in their attempt to reach back-to-back German Cup finals for the first time since 1974 and 1975, Frankfurt hadn't started well in Gelsenkirchen.

This was far from the solid, compact Eintracht side that Kovac rescued from relegation in 2016, led to seventh last season and has guided to the brink of European football this term. The sort of progress that convinced Bayern Munich that the Croatian is the man to take over from Jupp Heynckes in July.

Kovac might not have been the Bavarians' first choice and lacks top-level experience, but he represents familiarity, having played for Bayern between 2001 and 2003. With Hasan Salihamidzic already there as sporting director and Miroslav Klose (youth team) expected to return to the fray, Kovac fits the bill.

"He knows the environment, the expectations and the pressure – all important factors," former Bayern coach Ottmar Hitzfeld told SportBILD on Wednesday. "You don't need titles to get top players on side; it's all about the right approach."

But a title would certainly do Kovac no harm – especially were it to come in Berlin in May against his future employers. And thanks to Luka Jovic's goal 15 minutes from time, he now has the chance to do just that.

DFB-Pokal Halbfinale | FC Schalke 04 - Eintracht Frankfurt (Reuters/W. Rattay)

Lukas Hradecky had one of his best games for Frankfurt

He also has goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky to thank. The 28-year-old was Frankfurt's hero en route to last season's final, pulling off vital penalty saves in shoot-outs against Magdeburg and Borussia Mönchengladbach respectively. Here in Gelsenkirchen, the Finn made himself big to deny Guido Burgstaller and then saved from Yevhen Konoplyanka as Frankfurt weathered a second-half Schalke storm. Hradecky's performance had a sting in the tale though, when Fredi Bobic confirmed afterwards that the keeper would be leaving at the end of the season.

Frantic finish

But the Eagles had their chances too – notably a series of corners in front of their raucous traveling support. "Eintracht Frankfurt, ole!" they bellowed, trying to suck the ball into the net with their support.

Finally, at the fifth attempt, it worked, as Jovic rose in front of his marker at the front post. The 20-year-old Serb has now scored nine goals in all competitions this season – PSG's Kylian Mbappe and AC Milan's Patrick Cutrone are the only younger players to have scored more. Crucially, his goals have come at a time when Sebastien Haller has had a dip in form.

It took all of Frankfurt's defensive capabilities and a bit of luck to keep the Royal Blues at bay. After VAR stepped in to turn Gelson Fernandes' yellow card into a red one just 33 seconds after coming on as a substitute, Robert Hartmann disallowed Franco di Santo an equalizer for an apparent handball. The striker and 54,000 others were far from happy.

Niko Kovac though, was. The animated figure the 46-year-old had been on the sidelines earlier on was gone. It had taken them a while but, eventually, Eintracht Frankfurt produced a performance the demanding Croatian was pleased with.

"Reaching the final in Berlin two years in a row is a huge achievement by the players, worthy of a Nobel prize," he said, before insisting that Frankfurt are still as much of an Eintracht, still as united, as they have been all season.

"After everything that's been said in the last few days about us no longer being united, we saw today that that is not the case - both on and off the pitch."

Whatever has happened to the internal relationships in Frankfurt, it will be of absolutely no interest to the players, staff and fans celebrating in t-shirts emblazoned with the message: "Die Rückkehr der Adler" – the return of the Eagles.

Frankfurt are flying back to Berlin.

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