Europa Conference League
2 - 2
(0 - 2)
FC Köln
D. Huseinbasic (48), O. Duda (60)
G. Laborde (40), B. Brahimi (43)
By Peter Weis@PeterVicey

Köln fight back gallantly from 0-2 deficit, yet still see European dream die against Nice

Despite a valiant effort to fight back from a 0-2 halftime deficit, German Europa Conference League representatives 1. FC Köln were unable to keep their 2022/23 European dream alive on Thursday evening at the RheinEnergieStadion. 

A 2-2 draw with OGC Nice means that the Effzeh have been eliminated from this year's competition in the group phase. 
Seeking to attain European knockout round football for the first time in 32 years, 1. FC Köln hosted Lucien Favre's Nice on Thursday evening in front of a sold-out crowd in the cathedral city's Müngersdorf quarter. In what was a very exciting game that nearly saw Germany's Europa Conference League representatives pull off a sensational comeback, the wait shall continue following a 2-2 draw against the French guests.

Köln trainer Steffen Buamgart, lining up his squad for its third match (and fourth kickoff) in six days after last week's fog delay in the Czech Republic, rotated out three players from Sunday's 1-1 draw with Hoffenheim. Kingsley Schindler and Sargis Adamyan started on the right-hand-side for Kingsley Schindler and Linton Maina. Ellyes Skhiri also took over for Eric Martel in midfield. Die Gießböcke lined up before a raucous hometown crowd in a 4-2-3-1 formation.

The hosting Germans certainly began the game on the front foot. Quality forward play from Florian Kainz on the left and Adamyan on the right saw Steffen Tigges through twice in the opening ten minutes. The former Dortmund striker nevertheless couldn't furnish a controlled finish in either instance. A bad giveaway from Adamyan in the 9th nearly led to a monster chance for the French side. Denis Huseinbasic was able to track back and prevent a disaster.

The hectic tenor of the opening phase largely continued throughout the opening 45. With qualification for the Conference League knockouts on the line for both teams, neither squad was shy about taking risks. Skhiri narrowly missed finishing off a Kainz corner in the 17th. Nice themselves created some danger via a series of corners shortly thereafter. Tigges did extremely well to head a rebound on target in the 26th, yet met his match in the form of an amazing save from Danish national team keeper Kasper Schmeichel.

As the first half drew to a close, one could fairly say that the German Effzeh were the slightly better team. Unfortunately, Baumgart's charges were hit with a double hammer-blow shortly before the stroke of half-time. Billal Brahimi latched raced into the penalty area unmarked in the 40th/ A set-up of Gaetan Laborde found the back of the net. There were protests about a potential handball from Laborde, but the tally counted.

Some three minutes later, Brahimi would have his own goal. A turnover from Kainz enabled the Algerian international to latch onto a quality vertical from fellow Fenec Youcef Atal. There was once again some inopportune luck for Köln as Brahimi's finish deflected in off Schindler. The cathedral city side found themselves down 0-2 at the break. Having a tired bunch of players on the bench, Baumgart didn't even have anyone to turn to at the half.

Schmeichel continued to look unbeatable after the restart, supplying a monster save on Adamyan shortly after the second half kicked off. Barely two minutes later, however, Nice's Danish keeper flapped helplessly at a tame Huseinbasic header in the box that should have been saved. Köln had pulled a goal back in the 47th. To the delight of the hometown fans, die Geißböcke continued to show courage in pursuit of an equalizer.

Precisely at the hour-mark, all the hard work paid off. Ondrej Duda--who had been exceedingly active in the Köln attack--slotted home a Huseinbasic cross in the 60th for the 2-2. Less than sixty seconds later, the RheinEnergieStadion erupted in ecstasy as it appeared as if Adamyan had achieved the 3-2. Celebrations were nevertheless quickly quelled as the Armenian was correctly judged to have been well offside.

Matters calmed down a bit for a while whilst the two teams marshaled their reserves for the final push. Köln's real attempt to steal the sensational goal. The subbed on Maina and Schmitz were ultimately able to work some promising combos up the right-hand-side during the final ten minutes, but Favre's men were back deep defending to break up play. There would be some rises in the Kölner stands in injury time.

Adamyan saw a Kristin Pedersen chip-in lifted off his boot by some last-ditch defending at 90+2. Schmitz couldn't quite get enough power behind a headed finish at 90+4. Schmeichel was able to pounce on the effort on the last play of the game.

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