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Frankfurt clinch top group spot and skip UEL playoffs on final matchday

By Peter Weis   @PeterVicey

With first place in their Europa League group, and thereby direct passage to the competition's round-of-16, on the line Eintracht Frankfurt headed to Istanbul on Thursday night. 

The final group stage fixture against Fenerbahçe ended in a 1-1 draw. This ended up being more than enough after Antwerp defeated Olympiacos in the concurrent kickoff.  
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Eintracht Frankfurt assured themselves of spring European football early last month, the Eagles of Germany's commercial capital still had placement to play for in their final two Europa League group stage matches. Heading into the final matchday, the German representatives sought to avoid a February playoff round to be held prior to the actual round-of-16 next March. The UEL's new format--which does away with the round-of-32 entirely--is a new feature introduced this year alongside the UEFA Europa Conference League.

Eintracht didn't necessarily need to win in order to maintain first place in the group. Head-coach Oliver Glasner nevertheless insisted that the team would focus solely on victory, claiming "we won't be sitting on the plane with a slide rule ahead of our visit to Turkey". The SGE trainer saw no need to tinker with what is now his established lineup. The familiar 3-6-1 took the field against Fenerbahçe, albeit with one change. Jens Petter Hauge had to fill in for fellow Scandinavian attacker Jesper Lindstrøm (out with thigh problems).

Before anything of note happened in Istanbul, Frankfurt received some good news in the simultaneous kickoff. Royal Antwerp went ahead of Olympiacos Piraeus at home, meaning that a draw would prove sufficient for the Germans to avoid the playoff. The German guests breathed another sigh of relief when their Turkish hosts had a goal disallowed for offside in the 13th. Glasner's XI put their work in offensively and snatched a deserved lead in the 26th.

Daichi Kamada did extremely well to strip off a midfield ball and quickly unleashed Filip Kostic forward. Frankfurt's Serbian "assist-meister" then set-up Djibril Sow. The Swiss midfielder, who recently ended a nearly two-year-long scoring drought in the Bundesliga, made no mistake with the finish. Two goals in the last three fixtures have the 24-year-old in an entirely different place than he was with the club last year.

The German guests looked to have matters sewn up early. After all, their Turkish hosts had nothing to play for on this particular day. A failed clearance from Makoto Hasebe in the 42nd, however, enabled former FC Madgeburg striker Mergim Berisha to equalize. The German Kosovar took advantage of Hasebe's gift and slotted home to level the score just before it was time to head into the locker room.

Apart from a very near miss from Kostic in the 58th, there wasn't much going on after the restart. There were appeals for a penalty when Kamada was brought down in the box in the 71st, but the SGE didn't really get much legitimate going in front of goal. Substitute attackers Gonçalo Paciencia (on a roll as of late) and Sam Lammers produced a little bit more without producing any goals.

With the February playoffs avoided, Frankfurt's next European club competition match will come on March 10th, 2022.

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