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Europe: Champions League
1 - 1
(0 - 1)
Union Berlin
S. Niakate (31), Á. Dias Fernandes (51)
R. Gosens (42)

Sputtering Union fail to find way past shorthanded Braga

By Peter Weis   @PeterVicey

Union Berlin may technically still dream of European football next year via an Europa League referral on the final match-day of Champions' League group stage play in two weeks' time. A 1-1 draw away at the weakest opponent in their group nevertheless mostly excludes the prospect. 

Union must find a way to defeat Real Madrid and hope for a Napoli defeat of Braga in order to advance. Union's winless run across all competitions - dating back to August - now extends to 15 fixtures
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Under the new stewardship of newly-appointed head-coach Nenad Bjelica, 1. FC Union Berlin were able to avoid defeat in their trip to Portugal on Wednesday evening for a Champions' League fixture against Sporting Braga. Die Eisernen will nevertheless be disappointed that they weren't able to take three points off a shorthanded opponent as well as a missed chance to give themselves a reasonable chance at European football next year via an Europa League referral. The winless run of the capital city's Köpenick side now - dating back to August - now extends to 15 matches on-the-trot.

Union's new trainer made four changes to the XI that started in the league on Saturday. Rani Khedira, Jerome Roussillon, Josip Juranovic, and Lucas Tousart started above David Datro Fofana, Christopher Trimmel, Janik Haberer, and Paul Jaeckel. Bjelica's debut formation appeared to be a 4-1-4-1 with Kevin Volland sliding back to pair opposite Robin Gosens on the right attacking flanking. Roussillon handled the left fullback role behind Gosens.

For the initial quarter-of-an-hour, the German guests showed no interest in venturing beyond the half-way line. Bjelica's team sat very deep, with only lone striker Kevin Behrens occasionally pressing forward. Union were able to obtain gradually more of the ball as the half-hour-mark approached, yet still strugglers to fashion anything coherent out of their build-up play. Many fouls disrupted the rhythm of both sides in this stop-start affair.

French match official Clement Turpin found himself virtually inseparable from his whistle. A particular vicious open-sole stomp on Behrens by Braga defender Sikou Niakhaté in the 30th was deemed worthy of a straight red card after VAR review. Rough play on both sides continued as Turpin continued to have difficulty bringing proceedings under control. The Germans were finally able to make the man-advantage count in the 42nd.

A quick counter-attack down the left involving both Roussillon and Gosens ended with the latter powering home an artistic finish from the half-left into the far corner. Braga pushed hard for an equalizer as the half drew to a close. FCU defender Diogo Leite cleared what would have been the 1-1 off the line at 45+1. Union survived several more attacking waves and were able to take the 1-0 lead into the tunnel.

The hosts continued to look lively after the break. Only six minutes after the restart, Bjelica's charges did end up conceding the equalizer against their shorthanded opponents. A turnover from FCU defender Robin Knoche in the 51st was swiftly punished. Braga winger Alvaro Djalo netted the 1-1 in the 51st. The Germans tried to restore the lead mostly by running through Volland's side.

Imprecision on behalf of the former Leverkusen and Monaco attacker nevertheless meant that the guests weren't able to create much of note. Bjelica reacted to the weak offensive phase by bringing on Haberer and Fofana on for Tousart and Behrens in the 62nd. More rightward charges still fell apart due to poor touches from both Volland and Fofona. Roussillon headed the best chance at a winner wide in the 84th.

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