Germany: Bundesliga
3 - 2
(2 - 0)
Union Berlin
G. Prömel (5), T. Awoniyi (25), T. Awoniyi (88)
S. Zoller (55), E. Löwen (79)
By Peter Weis@PeterVicey

Final 15.30 Kickoffs: Union Berlin step up to Europa League, Leipzig secure final UCL spot

Late drama galore in the 2021/22 German Bundesliga's final set of 15:30 Kickoffs!

Of the four clubs still fighting for the Champions', Europa, and Conference League places, only 1. FC Union Berlin won their last fixture. Die Eisernen clinched an Europa League berth with a 3-2 home win over Bochum.

Leipzig still nabbed the final Champions' League spot despite drawing at Bielefeld. Freiburg shall be Germany's second Europa League club even after losing at Leverkusen. Köln's loss to Stuttgart means that the Conference League place belongs to the cathedral city. 
One year after sensationally qualifying for the Conference League with a late victory at home, Union Berlin have outdone themselves. Urs Fischer's Eisernen repelled a late comeback by visiting Bochum to win their final Bundesliga match 3-2. The result sends the capital city's Köpenick club to the 2022/23 Europa League one the same day that their richer capital city brethren got sent to the relegation playoffs. 

Union head-coach Fischer fielded the exact same team that won 4-1 at Freiburg last week. Julian Ryerson, Robin Knoche, and Paul Jaeckel formed the back three. Rani Khedira anchored the midfield, flanked by wingbacks Christopher Trimmel and the departing Bastian Oczipka. Genki Haraguchi and Grischa Prömel (another player suiting up one last time for the club) buttressed the two striker set of Taiwo Awoniyi and Sheraldo Becker.

VfL trainer Thomas Reis fielded his own two-striker set. Simon Zoller and Sebastian Polter played together up front. Takuma Asano moved back into the ten-slot. Danilo Soares and Herbert Bockhorn actually worked what appeared to be wingback roles ahead of a back-three comprised of Anthony Losilla, Christian Gamboa, and Armel Bella-Kotchap. Robert Tesche got a "farewell" start in midfield. Reis selected just four outfielders for his bench squad.

The hosts took control of the game from the start. Union appeared quite determined in front of their sell out home crowd at the Stadion An der Alten Försterei. The early flow of the match was nevertheless interrupted by a prolonged treatment break needed for Becker. Not long after Becker was able to stand up and continue, the Berliners scored the opening goal. Haraguchi sprinted away on the right and crossed in perfectly for Prömel.

The future Hoffenheim attacker headed into the corner of the net, sending the Köpenick supporters into a frenzy. By taking the lead, die Eisernen climbed up to fifth place in the live table. A few minutes after Prömel accomplished the 5th minute 1-0, the FCU supporters got more good news in the form of Stuttgart taking the lead against Köln in one of the concurrent fixtures. On the Köpenick pitch, however, some potentially bad news began to take shape.

Becker signaled to the sidelines that he could not continue shortly before the quarter-of-an-hour mark. Union had to defend resolutely while Fischer got a sub warmed up. Sven Michel eventually entered in the 19th to offset the man-disadvantage. The hosts managed to keep Bochum at bay during the interval, even with a hobbling Becker sometimes helping out. Four minutes after Michel's introduction, Union doubled their advantage.

Tesche ended up stopping Michel's effort from outside the box with his arm. It did not look intentional, but match official Marco Fritz opted to award the penalty after video review. Awoniyi converted the 2-0 in the 25th. Neither side managed to do much in terms of chance creation for the duration of the half. Takuma Asano found the back of the net at 45+1. The goal ultimately not count because the Japanese international was offside.

Both coaches pulled the trigger on changes at the half. Fischer brought of Andreas Voglsammer for his emergency sub Michel. Reis removed penalty conceder Tesche in favor of German U21 international Eduard Löwen. After a rather sleepy start to the second 45, the two sides traded chances around the 50th. Awoniyi hit the side netting first. Asano put the ball just past on the right seconds later.

After a few solid builds, Bochum pulled a goal back. Zoller got his first goal since returning from an ACL tear that sidelined him for most of the season. Soares supplied the 55th minute service. Zoller headed home from about eight meters out. The visiting 1848ers began to grow into the game, looking much more confident and creative on the charge.

It was still Awonoyi who got the next big opportunity. VfL backup keeper Michael Esser preserved the scoreline with a fantastic save in the 67th. FCU substitute Andras Schäfer missed another excellent chance to put the game to bed five minutes later with a mishit. Union were made to pay for their prolificacy in the 79th when Bochum equalized.

Asano set up Löwen and the halftime sub took advantage of slack marking to take his time in space and flick the ball into the back of the net. Matters still looked good for Union, with Freiburg losing at Leverkusen and Köln-Stuttgart holding at a 1-1 draw. The Köpenickers naturally still wanted to restore their lead. Two minutes from the end of normal time, Awoniyi delivered the goods.

The Nigerian striker latched onto a long ball in the box. After dusting off his marker, the potential future Premiership regular finished emphatically from about seven meters out on the right side of the box. Awoniyi ripped his shirt off in commemoration of his 15th league goal of the campaign. Bochum tried to press for another equalizer through five minutes of added time, but it was simply to be Union's day.

Union's win pushed them above SC Freiburg for a fifth-placed finish in the 2021/22 Bundesliga table. Freiburg themselves lost 1-2 away at Leverkusen. There was some scant hope for Breisgauer Champions' League hopes when future Union player Janik Haberer equalized in the 88th. Unfortunately for Christian Streich's men, Exequiel Palacios netted a winner at 90+7.

The final 2022/23 Champions' League place (at least insofar as the table is concerned) belongs to RB Leipzig. Domenico Tedesco's German Red Bulls struggled away at Bielefeld, even entering the end of normal time trailing 0-1. Will Orban scored the equalizer at 90+2, ensuring that the Saxons hung onto fourth-place by one solitary point.

Freiburg thus retain the second Europa League place despite their loss. Köln--courtesy of their late loss to Stuttgart--are set for the UEFA Europa Conference League. Stuttgart's 2-1 win over the cathedral city side, combined with Hertha's 1-2 loss to Dortmund, sensationally secured survival for the Swabians. Berlin's other top tier capital city side is headed for the relegation playoffs.

There were four "dead rubber" matches in the final set of 15:30 Kickoffs. Gladbach made the most profound statement with a 5-1 win over Hoffenheim. Bayern-Wolfsburg and Mainz-Frankfurt both ended in 2-2 draws. Augsburg ensured that SpVgg Greuther Fürth's exit from the Bundesliga was as ignominious as possible with a 2-1 win at the WWK Arena.

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