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Union Berlin win first Bundesliga promotion

May 27, 2019

For the first time in seven years, a second-division side has won the Bundesliga relegation playoff. Union Berlin secured promotion on away goals after holding off Stuttgart, who were relegated in the process.

Bundesliga Relegation Playoff - Union Berlin v VfB Stuttgart | Feier Union Berlin
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/A. Gora

Union Berlin 0-0 Stuttgart (agg. 2-2)

A dramatic night displaying the agony and ecstasy of the relegation playoff fixture saw Union Berlin seal their first ever Bundesliga promotion at the expense of Stuttgart.

The football itself was more combative than creative, as Union held firm to deny a Stuttgart side that lacked enough attacking punch to get the goal they craved.

After a thrilling first leg in which Union Berlin scored two away goals, the onus was on Stuttgart to score. Berlin knew no goals would mean promotion, although that plan looked over early on.

Just nine minutes in, Dennis Aogo put Stuttgart ahead with a superb freekick. The VAR though, ruled it out after Nico Gonzalez, standing in an offside position, was deemed to have disrupted goalkeeper Rafal Gikiewicz.

Bundesliga Relegation Playoff - Union Berlin v VfB Stuttgart
Union Berlin fans celebrate on the pitch after an historic nightImage: picture-alliance/dpa/A. Gora

Despite this setback, Stuttgart pressed on - Anastasios Donis flashed an effort wide. Holger Badstuber and Ozan Kabak clashed heads, with both needing headbands to stop the bleeding. Concerningly though, the pair played the rest of the game, raising questions about the efficient nature of a concussion protocol.

Stuttgart lack attacking punch

Zuber forced another save out of Gikiewicz shortly before the break, but in truth it was already looking a bit desperate for Stuttgart. Union Berlin stood firm, doing the basics well and ultimately forcing Stuttgart to answer the question: could they win the game?

In the second half, the hosts looked far like doing so. Suleiman Abdullahi hit the post twice in two minutes as the second-division side somehow failed to score the goal that would have likely ended the contest. 

In the end it mattered not as Stuttgart failed to muster another real chance, even with the help of Mario Gomez in the second half. The final whistle went and pandemonium broke out. The field at the "Stadion An der Alten Försterei" was quickly covered in home fans.

Next season Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund will visit. Tonight though, Union Berlin fans will celebrate this moment.

Bundesliga Relegation Playoff - Union Berlin v VfB Stuttgart
Union did enough to hold Stuttgart at bay and secure their first ever Bundesliga promotionImage: Imago Images/Jan Huebner/Voigt

As it happened:

22:51 — The party has well and truly started in Berlin. Köpenick is going to be absolutely bouncing tonight. Fans are taking bits of the pitch, the goal net. It's a night that will go down in history and will never be forgotten. Beers will be drunk, songs will be sung. Union Berlin are going to be in the Bundesliga next season!

22:48 — Thomas Hitzlsperger looks sad speaking to Eurosport. He also congrats Union. "We tried a lot in this season. We had three coaches, lots of players. It wasn't enough because well, it wasn't enough. We have to take a look at what we've done. We've done a lot of things wrong. There will be lots of changes, but I don't know how they'll look yet. But we've done a lot wrong... I've not been in this [job] long and to start like this is hard. I have to get everyone back on their feet. We have to figure out how to get promoted," Hitzlsperger said. A long road ahead, especially considering the summer is so short.

22:45 — "It's not about me, it's about the club. It has been a horror season. I'm struggling to find the words. We've been working so hard for the last five weeks, since I've been in charge. Union deserved to get promoted. Congrats to them. It's hard to work through this. I'm sorry for the fans and for the entire region. We didn't manage to stay in the league. That was my job and that's why I'm so disappointed," Willig said to Eurosport afterwards. Tough.

Bundesliga Relegation Playoff - Union Berlin v VfB Stuttgart | Feier Union Berlin
Image: Reuters/A. Hilse

22:41 — On the other side of this historic result is Stuttgart. Thomas Hitzlsperger had his head in his hands when the final whistle went. This is a tough moment for a club that only two years ago finished top of the second division and looked to be headed towards stability. Another relegation has arrived and while it won't be the end of the world for the club, it will force them to restart again. The other kind of tears are falling in the away block. Agony and ecstasy just meters apart.

22:38 — "I can't believe it. I've waited 40 years for this game. I'm so happy because the people here deserve it so much. I'm so happy," club president Dirk Zingler, wearing the club's kit, has just said. Wow. What a moment. The pictures from the pitch below show just how much this means to those fans.

22:37 — A very beer-drenched Urs Fischer says, "It's a success for everyone at this club... I always believed this was possible." Next season, Fischer will take his Union team to Dortmund, to Munich, to Bremen. What a moment for this club that has worked so hard and for so long to be here.

22:36 — A stat for you. It's Union Berlin's first ever time in the Bundesliga, but they join a special list of clubs in the capital to have played in the top flight.

22:33 — Sebastian Andersson, Swedish striker, saying to Eurosport that he is so proud of this team. Hard to image. Incredible scenes in the stadium. Oliver Ruhnert, the business manager of the club, says the moment is indescribable. "It's so great to give these fans something they deserve and something they've waited so long for," Ruhnert added. Special scenes.

22:30 — This is the time. This is the day. What a moment for Union Berlin and their fans. An historic promotion secured thanks to an incredible defensive effort. Fans are all over the pitch. Urs Fischer is covered in beer. The players are in tears.



90+4' Zieler heaves another long ball forward. Time is really nearly all up. The referee is looking at his watch...

90+2' Suttgart's defense is open but Gogia can't beat Zieler. Long ball forward. Stuttgart try. Union make a change, their last. Parensen is about to come on for Zulj, who takes his time trotting off. This home crowd can't believe it. It's so, so close. Köpenick, the area where the stadium is, is about to go crazy.

90' That forces another corner, it falls to Castro but he blazes it over. We are in added time. Union Berlin are now just five minutes away from Bundesliga football. The crowd can sense it. Oh my goodness is this tight. One Stuttgart goal and this place will fall so silent.

Bundesliga Relegation Playoff - Union Berlin v VfB Stuttgart
Image: Reuters/H. Hanschke

88' CHANCE! Pavard pulls out a World Cup shot and it nearly creeps in. Flashbacks to France right there. It's saved wide. Corner. Cleared, but for another corner...

87' CHANCE! Didavi with a great cross but Gentner gets the header wrong again. He was a way from the goal, but a chance there. Stuttgart are about to open up completely at the back and go for it. Badstuber is already in attack. Three minutes plus stoppages (likely to be hefty) left.

85' Badstuber penalized for a big challenge. Looked alright to me. Union clear it and then win another free kick after Kabak's elbow catches Andersson. More time being used up from the home side. The stadium is loud. Free kick from Zulj is high and wide. Have Stuttgart got something, anything left? 

82' Union make a change. Abdullahi, who has played brilliantly tonight and in the first leg, is replaced by Gogia. The time is running away from Stuttgart. 

80' Into the final 10 minutes. Are Union going to do it? I think they're going to do it? Are they? Oh this is so tense.

75' This really is on a knife edge. Gentner gets booked as he slows a Union counterattack. Stuttgart breathing in before the last effort. Union can't believe they're just 15 minutes away. Badstuber is bleeding on his face now. Looks like a cut. Serious concerns about player safety to be honest. Zulj smashes a free kick in a dangerous spot into the wall. The place might have erupted had that gone in.

70' Cross comes in, cleared and then Kabak lets fly. Over the bar. Into the final 20 minutes. Will this be the best goalless draw in Union's history?

66' POST! Drama here. Abdullahi breaks free and through on goal. Kabak jostles with him, he goes to ground and as he's down, he pokes it goalwards. It trickles all the way... onto the post again! Can you believe that? The same man has hit the post twice in two minutes! Union appeal for a red card, but Abdullahi slipped so nothing doing. It all ends in a corner - which Stuttgart deal with. Willig's side breathe a huge sigh of relief. Castro replaces Zuber.

65' POST! Abdullahi gets space on the edge of the box and fires in an effort that clatters off the post! Zieler was beaten. A wake-up call for the visitors. Hartel is off, Mees is on as Berlin look to get more legs in midfield.

62' CHANCE! Out of the blue, Prömmel finds himself in the box but hesitates and Ascacibar gets in. He doesn't clear it though, and Zieler can't pick it up so it's all a bit messy but Stuttgart just about get it clear. Down the other end, Akolo tests Gikiewicz but the Pole is there to meet it. The game is opening up a bit...

60' Daniel Didavi is on. This is his third straight relegation playoff season. Not been easy for the playmaker. He moves into the 10, Akolo moves up top with Gomez. Feels like the third roll of the dice from Willig, but also understandable. Needs something special from someone, and soon.

57' Big call here. Prömmel's hand hits the ball as he turns but he knows nothing about it. VAR takes a quick look, and Dingert says no quickly. Would have been pretty unfair. Stuttgart upping the tempo a bit here. All a bit angsty from Union. A scramble on the edge of the box but it's just about cleared. This is going to be a long 30 minutes for the home side if it continues like this.

51' Schmiedebach is booked for hauling down Akolo as the Stuttgart winger's pace proves too much. The free kick, from the right, is swung in and it's a good one but Gentner can't quite get the header right. Wide. Another half chance. Stuttgart just need to take one.

50' Think it's time for Union to start counting down. Stuttgart just don't look capable of answering the question that has so often been asked of them this season: can you win the game? The first five minutes of the second half passes with little incident.

Bundesliga Relegation Playoff - Union Berlin v VfB Stuttgart
Image: Reuters/H. Hanschke

46' The clouds haven't cleared, but the game is underway. Stuttgart get the game going. The last 45 minutes of the Bundesliga season is upon us.

— Mario Gomez is on, Nico Gonzalez is the man making way. The away fans display an enormous set of flares. The home fans respond with their own. The result is a thick cloud of smoke from the away end. Referee Christian Dingert is waiting for it to clear before we can get restarted. Stuttgart's fans are very loud. They are up for it.


Stuttgart are playing all the football, scored a goal, saw it chalked off after VAR spotted an offside and since then have huffed and puffed but haven't blown Union's pretty stable house down. Berlin are 45 minutes away from the Bundesliga. Stuttgart need a goal to survive.

45+2' Kabak's wounds is bleeding through his headband, but the game goes on. Seriously concerning. Think he might be replaced at the break. Worth noting that Badstuber has taken Andersson out of the game so far. That decision has paid off.

45' CHANCE! That's more like it! Zuber unleashes a whipped effort towards the far post, but Gikiewicz gets a strong hand down to palm it away. The corner is cleared, and so are the next three balls into the box. Union standing firm. Four minutes of added time.

44' More of the same. Kabak sends a lovely diagonal ball to Gonzalez, but he tries to chest it down to Akolo. His teammate isn't on the same page though and the chance goes. Nearly but not quite, as much of Stuttgart's season has been.

40' Stuttgart get the ball into the box, but a rush of red shirts is enough to first block the effort and then clear it. Union are doing enough, and quite frankly, Stuttgart aren't. That might well be the difference at the end of it all. Halftime approaching, and Stuttgart might be wondering where the time has gone. For the home team, they are just 45 minutes away from the Bundesliga.

Bundesliga Relegation Playoff - Union Berlin v VfB Stuttgart
Image: Reuters/A. Hilse

36' Gentner goes for goal from the left-hand side. He's quite a way out and despite a bit of swerve, it's easy enough for Gikiewicz. Bit early to be shooting from there isn't it?

33' Wonder how long this strategy can save Union. Stuttgart are playing all the football really. Union are just holding them at bay, which is fine but will it, can it last an entire 90 minutes? One look at Stuttgart's season suggests so. All open really.

29' Have to get Union credit. They're not getting carried away with this. Just doing the basics well and avoiding mistakes. Donis nods a header goalwards after a defensive mix-up from the home side. Easy for Gikiewicz.

25' For around 40 seconds straight, the home fans shout their support back and forth. One group says "Eisern" (iron) and the other responds "Union" (don't think that needs translating). Very loud. Union a bit more settled now. Stuttgart though, have lost a bit of that early pace. Understandable really.

21' This isn't good. Badstuber and Kabak go for the same header with Andersson. The Union striker comes out fine, but the two Stuttgart defenders clash heads heavily. Both are bleeding from their head. Zieler gets Union's doctors on the pitch to help. Both look in a lot of pain. Badstuber gets a headband, a sip of water and is keen to go back out. He gives a thumb up despite a bloodied left eyebrow. Kabak though is still on the ground. The game has obviously stopped. Kabak also gets a headband. Stuttgart's central defensive partnership are both nursing head injuries, but both are back on and playing on. Concussion protocol anyone? Hmmm. On we go again, after a four minute break.

15' Union get and don't use a couple of corners. The home side cheers on any venture near Stuttgart's goal as another step towards the Promised Land though. If it stays like this, that's where they'll be headed.

13' CHANCE! Stuttgart shake off that disappointment and Donis nearly makes it 1-0 again, but angles his effort just wide after meeting a low cross from the left first time. A good start from the Bundesliga side but you get the feeling they need to convert it - something Union Berlin are well aware of.

Bundesliga Relegation Playoff - Union Berlin v VfB Stuttgart
Image: Reuters/A. Hilse

9' VAR! ... Zuber and Aogo stand over it. Aogo goes for it and curls it home! Jubilation for the away fans, but it is short lived. VAR steps in and rules that Nico Gonzalez, who is standing a few yards in front of the keer and in an offside spot, played a big enough role in affecting the play that the goal cannot stand. Offside is the call. Looks right to me, and it begs the question, why was he standing there in the first place?

8' Union settle into the game a bit, but Stuttgart clearly in control in the early stages. Not long before Stuttgart get back into an attacking spot. Union's Ryerson gives away a free kick on the edge of the box...

4' Stuttgart make a strong start, with a probing cross from the left. Then a corner from the right is nearly stabbed home by Kabak but Gikiewicz just about gets there. Ascacibar already looking very lively. He might be the difference tonight, the Argentinean terrier in midfield. He just needs to make sure he doesn't overheat as he did last time, and spat on Kai Havertz. Nasty that.

1' We are underway! The home side get us started.

— The words from Union Berlin's English Twitter handle ring true. "Become heroes." What a choreo that is as well from the home side. The heart of this team is in the stands and on the pitch. Will Stuttgart stay in the Bundesliga or will Union manage the upset?

— Just 10 minutes to go now. Scarves are out. Rain has started falling. All the ingredients for a brilliant game.

— Nico Willig says a special game has a special atmosphere and that is only natural. "It's in our hands," Willig added. That much is true. Stuttgart need a win here tonight to stay in the league. No goals puts Union up on away goals.

— Urs Fischer is on the mic with Eurosport before the game. He says Stuttgart are still favorites, and that going into the game with the mentality that a 0-0 draw would be enough would be a mistake. The situation has not changed, Fischer added, before saying that he is calm because as a player he hated it when the coach was wild before the game. What a nice chap he seems. He'll be a hero tonight if things go his way.

— Captain Trimmel tells Eurosport before the game that club president Dirk Zingler told the team before the game that he has been dreaming of promotion to the Bundesliga for 40 years. Worth noting at this point that Union Berlin have never played in the Bundesliga before.

— Union Berlin head coach Urs Fischer said before the game that his side had something to lose in this one. It's a fair point from the Swiss. Everything seems to be pointing towards promotion for the second-division side, but the game hasn't been played yet. Dangerous territory.

— Thomas Hitzlsperger is speaking to Eurosport ahead of the game, saying that everyone needs to go to their limit tonight. He said he didn't feel any unneeded tension in the squad ahead of this one. Saying all the right things. Now the team needs to deliver.

— TEAMS! With Felix Kroos, Fabian Schönheim and captain Christopher Trimmel all suspended for tonight, Union have had to reshuffle a bit. Julian Ryerson comes in at right back and Florian Hübner takes the central defensive spot to pair with Marvin Friedrich. Otherwise it's the same team that did so well in Stuttgart.

The visitors make a bold move by bringing Holger Badstuber (Marc-Oliver Kempf is injured) in the starting lineup. Experience gets the nod tonight. Santiago Ascacibar is welcomed back after his six-game suspension. It's a bit of a shake up for Stuttgart, but perhaps the one they need. Badstuber is looking like the key decision for interim head coach Nico Willig.

Union XI: Gikiewicz - Reichel, Hübner, Friedrich, Ryerson - Schmiedebach, Prömel, Zulj - Hartel, Andersson, Abdullahi 

Stuttgart XI: Zieler - Aogo, Kabak, Badstuber, Pavard - Zuber, Ascacibar, Gentner, Akolo - Donis, Gonzalez

— A big screen has been set up in Stuttgart's stadium for all the fans who couldn't make the second leg. A nervous night for them. It has been a torrid season, but this fixture offers teams the chance to save themselves. Most Bundesliga sides have done that of late, but can Stuttgart?

— Honestly. What a welcome. Imagine what those players are feeling. This already feels like one of those great European nights. Tense!

— The home side's bus has arrived to quite the welcome in Berlin!

— Some fans are already in the stadium. Some are desperate for tickets. Many others have gathered outside to welcome the Union Berlin bus when it arrives. What a night this promises to be.

— That's one way to do it! The famous Berlin Currywurst (curry sausage) and French fries with a local beer. Union fans around the world are getting into the spirit ahead of the game.

— A good omen? I honestly think Union have a great chance of going through tonight. Two away goals in the back pocket going into a home game in the second leg? I'm sure they'd have been delighted with that had it been offered before kickoff in the first game.

— The calm before the storm. The relegation playoff game has a funny old history. From 1982 to 1991 the format included a third game if the scores were level. In that time period, the second division side ended up winners on only three occasions. Then the format disappeared for 18 years, before the DFL (German Football League) brought it back. Since 2009, only twice has the second division side progressed. Fortuna Düsseldorf's victory over Hertha Berlin back in 2012 feels like a long time ago. Since then, Kaiserslautern, Fürth, Karlsruher, Nürnberg, Eintracht Braunschweig and Holstein Kiel have all failed. Tonight, it's Union Berlin's chance to buck the trend.

— Famous commentator Derek Rae is already making his way to the ground. The excitement is growing.

— It's a big day for Stuttgart's sporting director, Thomas Hitzlsperger. He's got two "finals" to worry about.

— Good evening! Tonight's the night. It's time to stay or go. Union Berlin are aiming to make history, while Stuttgart are hoping one good performance can put a forgettable season to bed. It's the Bundesliga relegation playoff game. The first leg ended in a 2-2 draw after a thrilling encounter that saw the second-division side head home with two vital away goals.Stuttgart now head to Berlin, hoping not to be affected by what will likely be an impressive atmosphere. It's all to play for. Kickoff is at 20:30 CEST. Between now and then we'll bring you all the latest updates, the lineups and the best social media posts as we build up to this enormous game.