It’s been just under a year. SC Freiburg won 3-0 at Olympiakos Piraeus and stormed through the group stage of the Europa League. Now it comes to the reunion – under incomparably more difficult circumstances.
A draw is not a concert of wishes – otherwise it wouldn’t be a draw. A sentence that could well have come from Christian Streich. But it doesn’t. Nevertheless, the Freiburg coach had one wish regarding his team’s European travels. “If at all possible, not to Piraeus,” he said before the draw at the beginning of September. Not out of fear of the Greeks, but because of his interest in new things. The SC had already been guests at the Karaiskakis Stadium last season. Now that the draw can no longer be changed, Freiburg can at least fall back on their good memories. The Breisgauers beat the Greeks 3:0 just under a year ago.
This Thursday evening (9pm), Streich and the Sport-Club will once again be challenged in the port city bordering Athens. “As fate would have it, we are playing in Piraeus again,” Streich said the day before the game, making it clear that almost everything is different apart from the venue and the name of the opponent. “This Olympiakos team has nothing to do with the team we won against here anymore. We had them last year at the best possible time, they had big sporting problems. “
Olympiakos with four coaches in one year – like SC since 1991
The past season they would like to forget in Piraeus. On paper, they were the favourites in the Europa League group at the time, but in reality they became the “whipping boy” for Freiburg, Qarabag and Nantes with only two points. A whopping 46 players were used during the season and four coaches tried their hand without success. Given this history, Streich is a phenomenon for the Greeks. Incidentally, SC has employed four coaches since July 1991, starting with Volker Finke. A journalist asked him how Streich had managed to be at SC for 13 years. Laughing, he corrected him to twelve years and explained: “That has nothing to do with me, actually, it has to do with the club, there is a completely different philosophy with us than with Olympiakos probably and with others”.
But there, too, they long for consistency. After another XXL upheaval with a total of 16 new arrivals, the football world at the record champion has been made whole again for the time being. After the league start with three wins from the first three games and 10:0 goals and most recently a 1:1 against the reigning champions AEK Athens, the Spaniard Diego Martinez is also sitting quite firmly on his coach’s bench and now wants to cause a stir internationally. Especially as there is still a revenge to come.
“We expect a heated atmosphere “
The only sound in Piraeus this morning is the heavy traffic. The chaos on the streets is of a particular magnitude, even for Athens, due to a strike on the metro. It will take until the evening hours before the electrifying atmosphere surrounding the traditional club takes over the city of 160,000 inhabitants next to the metropolis of Athens with its millions of inhabitants. “We are expecting a heated atmosphere. It was the same last year, it was impressive the atmosphere before the game,” stresses Maximilian Eggestein, who would nevertheless like to become a spoilsport again. “Back then, we contributed to the atmosphere quickly not being as good. We hope that we can go in a similar direction again.”
Off the pitch and around the stadium, things remained relatively quiet a year ago – which, unfortunately, is not the order of the day in Piraeus. This Thursday, too, the 700 or so Freiburg fans travelling with them will be taken in a convoy of buses from their meeting point at the historic Panathenaic Stadium towards Piraeus and virtually dumped in the visitors’ block.
Then the ball will start rolling from 9pm German time, 10pm local time. “We don’t have many players in the squad who have constantly played in Europe every year. That’s why nobody needs to motivate us extra or give us a speech. We are all looking forward to the six games and hope to add a few in the new year,” Eggestein explained.
No Marcelo, no James, but now a team
The really big names like ex-Real players Marcelo and James Rodriguez have already left the traditional Greek club in the course of the chaotic pre-season. Streich has now identified the decisive difference in the collective anyway. “They have many good players, but now they also have a very good organisation, they are very disciplined, they work extremely hard against the ball. They run, they work, they do everything,” warns the 58-year-old.
One player Streich would have liked to coach himself in Breisgau: captain and 56-time international Konstantinos Fortounis. He played for 1. FC Kaiserslautern from 2011 to 2014. However, he and the Palatinate team were not really happy with him in the 77 competitive games. Streich nevertheless remembers the positive. “He is a very interesting player, he already was back then. We looked into him, had to see what our financial options were at the time. His technical quality and mobility not only caught our eye, but also that of other Bundesliga clubs,” the coach recounts. Nevertheless, Fortounis went to Piraeus at the time – certainly not a bad decision from today’s perspective.
Focus on defensive stability
Once the Greek was on the pitch as a Red Devil against Freiburg. On 24 March 2012, SC won 2-0 at the Dreisamstadion – with a then 18-year-old centre-back named Matthias Ginter in the eleven. If the zero stands again tonight, the first step will have been taken for the Sport-Club. For it is not only in Piraeus that the omens are different before the game. A year ago, Streich’s team had arrived in second place in the Bundesliga with 13 points from six games. Now they have a mixed start with two defeats with a flood of goals against Stuttgart (0:5) and Dortmund (2:4) in their luggage. But if there is one Bundesliga team that has shown in recent years that it does not let itself be rattled by setbacks, it is SC Freiburg.