Wolfsburg win thrilling German Cup final against Essen
Wolfsburg 3-3 (4-2 on penalties) Essen
(Harder 11', Blässe 70', Bloodworth 86' - Schüller 1', Hegering 18', Ioannidou 90+1')
In one of the great and most dramatic German Cup finals, Wolfsburg beat Essen on penalties after the game finished 3-3 following extratime. The win is Wolfsburg's sixth straight German Cup victory.
Wolfsburg goalkeeper Friederike Abt was the hero. Abt saved two penalties in the shootout to help seal Wolfsburg's fourth straight domestic double and leave Essen heartbroken in a thrilling game that included three controversial refereeing decisions that might have been overturned had VAR been available.
Despite taking the lead after just 12 seconds, restoring it after Pernille Harder inevitably scored for "Die Wölfinnen" and equalizing in the last-minute of regular time, Essen somehow couldn't get the better of Wolfsburg.
Essen pressed aggressively and tackled strongly, almost willing their four departing German international stars - Lena Oberdorf, Marina Hegering, Lea Schüller and Turid Knaak - a final to remember. At halftime it was enough, but the game changed in the second half.
In an encounter full of efforts off the woodwork, Jana Feldkamp's shot might have won it for Essen had it gone in instead of clipping the inside of the post and springing wide around the hour mark. That would have put Essen 3-1 up, but instead Wolfsburg stayed in the game.
Wolfsburg down but not out
Shortly after Nicole Anyomi, who had worked tirelessly all day, was stretchered off after landing awkwardly, Essen's defensive wall started to crack.
Anna Blässe broke it with a 35-yard screamer. A shot that bent back towards goal late on before bouncing wickedly just before the goalkeeper was a worthy equalizer, although Ingrid Engen appeared to impede Stina Johannes in the Essen goal.
With Wolfsburg level, the winner felt inevitable. Dominique Bloodworth's header five minutes from time looked to be just that, but Essen rewarded themselves with a dramatic equalizer in stoppage time. Substitute Irini Ioannidou curled in a beautiful free kick from the edge of the box, although the foul given against Alexandra Popp appeared dubious.
In extratime, Essen somehow survived. Harder's mazy run saw Claudia Neto clip the inside of the post, and there was also a strong appeal for handball after Nina Brüggemann appeared to elbow the ball.
Even in the penalty shootout when Popp missed, Essen couldn't take their chance to finish Wolfsburg off. First, free-kick hero Ioannidou missed and then so did Brüggemann, allowing Harder to slide home the winning spot kick.
In doing so, Wolfsburg's dominance continues. This team didn't care for Essen's impressive cup final performance or that with four core players leaving this was the end of an era for their opponents, or that the game appeared to be slipping away from them. This was yet more proof that Wolfsburg are all about winning, and how very hard it is to stop them from doing that.