Germany: Bundesliga
FT
3 - 2
(1 - 2)
FC Köln
Union Berlin
F. Kainz (45), S. Tigges (87), D. Downs (90)
R. Knoche (15), K. Volland (19)
By Peter Weis@PeterVicey

15:30 Kickoffs: Köln keep hope alive with amazing comeback, Gladbach clinch safety

Three of the four simultaneous kickoffs on the 2023/24 German Bundesliga's penultimate match-day concluded in 1-1 draws. In the biggest sensation of the afternoon, relegation-threatened 1. FC Köln were able to overcome a 0-2 deficit to best relegation rivals 1. FC Union Berlin and retain some hope of contesting the promotion-relegation playoffs. 

In an ironic twist insofar as Köln are concerned, the Rhineland club have done their fierce rivals Borussia Mönchengladbach quite the favor by beating Union. Gladbach - having picked up a point at home against Frankfurt - are assured of top division football next season.

The slim survival hopes of 17th-placed 1. FC Köln - already reduced to a small flicker entering the weekend - have not yet officially been extinguished. Union Berlin traveled to the RheinEnergieStadion on Saturday afternoon and blew a 2-0 lead against Timo Schultz's Effzeh. Köln will still need to win against FC Heidenheim on the season's final match-day and receive some help if they hope to avoid their sixth relegation down to the lower division in the last 25 years. For the time being, Schultz's team can take some heart from their their second spectacular comeback against a relegation rival in the last five weeks.

FCU interim trainer Marco Grote made four changes to what would prove sacked trainer Nenad Bjelica's final XI. Josip Juranovic, Lucas Tousart, and Benedict Hollerbach all moved to the bench in favor of Jerome Roussillon, Christopher Trimmel, and Brenden Aaronson. Robin Knoche also took over for the injured Kevin Vogt. Bjelica's 3-3-2-2 was changed to a more straightforward 3-4-3. Robin Gosens moved up to the top axis to pair alongside Aaronson behind  lead striker Kevin Volland.  

Schultz went with two changes to the team that lined up in last Saturday night's goalless draw with SC Freiburg. Captain Florian Kainz returned to the starting XI above Linton Maina while Sargis Adamyan replaced Jan Thielmann. Early in the match, Schultz's Domstädter had the misfortune to lose starter Luca Waldschmidt. The VfL Wolfsburg loanee took a cleat to the heel from Union skipper Rani Khedira. The VfL Wolfsburg tried to carry on, but ultimately had to be subbed off in the 20th. 

By the time Waldschmidt was taken off, die Geißböcke unfortunately found themselves two goals down. Knoche headed home the 1-0 at the quarter-of-an-hour mark. Two minutes later, die Eisernen were awarded a handball penalty when Faride Alidou's outstretched arm got in the way of a Khedira header towards goal. Volland sunk the 2-0 from the spot in the 19th. Totally deflated by the early disadvantage, Köln were unable to muster up much in response. 

At the end of the first-half, however, the Westphalian hosts were granted an unexpected lifeline. Match official Deniz Aytekin ruled that some tugging by Khedira on Timo Hübers in the box merited a penalty. Kainz was able to pull a goal back from the spot in the 45th. The booking spelled the end of the match for Khedira, who was taken off after incurring a card that will leave him suspended for the season's final fixture. 

Schultz also employed changes at the half. Steffen Tigges and Dominique Heintz replaced Adamyan and Benno Schmitz. The switch-up nearly produced an equalizer when Tigges laid off an excellent ball for Alidou in the 50th. Köln's Eintracht loanee - precisely as was the case last week - simply couldn't find a quality finish. Union were able to calm things down with possession and substitutions for much of the second half. 

The guests came closer to scoring via a Gosens header off the crossbar in the 67th. The subbed-on Hollerbach also missed out on a chance at the 3-1 in the 83rd. Just when it appeared as if all hope was lost, Tigges his team level off a free-kick three minutes from the end of normal time. Home-town hero Mark Uth supplied the assist off a close range service from keeper Marvin Schwäbe. 

Prospects were still bleak as Köln had trouble mounting decent attacks in injury time. Shortly after Union squandered another opportunity to put the game to bed, however, the Domstädter were able to complete their comeback. Maina - who had entered on behalf of Waldschmidt - serviced substitute Damion Downs at the far post at 90+3. The win keeps Köln three points behind Union with a minus-three goal differential. 

Elsewhere in the Bundesliga's 15:30 kickoffs, Köln's fierce Rhein rivals Borussia Mönchengladbach are now safe from relegation. Gerardo Seoane's Fohlenelf only managed a 1-1 draw against visiting Eintracht Frankfurt at Borussia Park, but Union's loss leaves BMG four points above the relegation zone. 

Two other Bundesliga fixtures also ended in 1-1 draws. Leipzig and Bremen split the difference at the Red Bull Arena. Down south at the Europa Park Stadion in Breisgau, Christian Streich's SC Freiburg were unable to top visiting 1. FC Heidenheim despite a very strong second half in which they had numerous chances to score a second goal.
 

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