Leipzig claimed the club’s first-ever piece of major silverware as they won the German Cup at the third time of asking. It was a heartbreaking loss for Freiburg and for German football in Berlin.
Billed as a clash of football cultures it was Leipzig's new money that triumphed over the humble traditionalists from Freiburg in the 2021/2022 German Cup final. The title represents the first piece of major silverware won in the club's 13-year history.
"It's crazy, we played 60 minutes with one man less," said club CEO Oliver Mintzlaff on German broadcaster ARD. "It's incredible. I think we have to look at what we've achieved in the last 13 years. We played a great final in front of a great crowd. It's a great night that we're going to enjoy it."
Facing new expectations as two would-be first-time German Cup winners, it was a game that had all the hallmarks of a nervy final between teams unproven in the art of winning titles. While Leipzig were looking to get their hands on the German Cup at the third time of asking, Freiburg's fans and players consistently referenced a "once-in-a-lifetime chance."
In the build-up to the game, social media was rife with videos of the modest, community-driven club taking over the German capital of Berlin with the kind of fan marches that have stretched from third-tier grounds to the streets of Seville in recent weeks.
That momentum carried onto the pitch as Maximilian Eggestein gave Freiburg the lead, The goal came in controversial circumstances though as the final touch before Eggestein's shot on goal came off the hand of Roland Sallai. Under the current interpretation of the handball rule, the goal was allowed to stand as the Hungarian wasn't the goal scorer, his arm was in a natural position and the contact stemmed from a close-range deflection.
Marcel Halstenberg's sending off before the hour mark emboldened Freiburg's cause, before Christopher Nkunku's equalizer rejuvenated Leipzig's. From there the tide turned. Chances to win the game were spurned at both ends in normal and extra-time, but it was Freiburg who survived the biggest scare when Nicolas Höfler's last-ditch challenge on Dani Olmo inside the area only produced the faintest of touches on the ball.
"Of course we're not happy with the referee's performance, but tonight I don't think it plays a role anymore," Mintzlaff told broadcaster ARD.
Denied the penalty on that occasion, Leipzig weren't to be denied in the shootout as first Christian Günter and then Ermedin Demirovic missed their spot kicks for Freiburg. For many fans in Germany, this was a meeting of a club that represented the best of German football and a side that threaten it's core beliefs. While Leipzig and their fans will celebrate, few are celebrating with them.