Europe: Europa League
AET
3 - 2
(2 - 2)(0 - 2)
Freiburg
Lens
R. Sallai (67), R. Sallai (90), M. Gregoritsch (99)
D. Pereira da Costa (28), S. Wahi (45)
By Peter Weis@PeterVicey

Freiburg score three unanswered against Lens to keep European dream alive

SC Freiburg have become the first German top tier side to advance in Europe in the new calendar year. In a sensational comeback Thursday evening at the Europa Park Stadion in Breisgau, Christian Streich's charges scored three unanswered goals to best French guests RC Lens 3-2 on aggregate. 

Germany's south Baden "Schwarzwaldverein" are through the the 2023/24 Europa League Round-of-16 following their astounding rebound in the southern Baden February rain. Roland Sallai bagged a brace in the victory. 
After drawing the opening league of their 2023/24 Europa League playoff fixture away against RC Lens, Christian Streich's SC Freiburg have pulled themselves back from the brink of elimination and punched through to the current competition's Round-of-16. Roland Sallai scored a brace and Michael Gregoritsch netted the winner as the Schwaldwaldverein scored three unanswered goals against their French guests at the Europa Park Stadion. Sallai sent the match into extra time with his equalizer in second half injury time. Gregoritsch netted the 3-2 on a curious play.

Streich made two changes to the XI that drew Eintracht Frankfurt 3-3 in the league on Sunday. Kiliann Sildillia filled in on the defensive line for Yannik Keitel after the makeshift central defender complained of calf problems. Germany U21 star Merlin Röhl - available for Europe after serving a suspension in the league - took over for Vincenzo Grifo in attack. Streich shifted his previous 3-4-3 into a 4-4-2 formation. Left-back Jordy Makengo pushed higher when the Breisgauer were off the ball, however, meaning that the German hosts still played a 3-4-3 in defense.

Neither side was able to manage much from open play in the opening half-hour. It took a set-piece to open the scoring. Unfortunately from the point of view of the Germans, it was the French guests who netted the 1-0 in the 28th. Lens attacker David Costa took advantage of a poor fist-away from SCF rookie keeper Noah Atubolu to stuff home the opener. Freiburg nearly equalized five minutes later when Sildillia's shot was deflected off the post. Matters would regrettably get worse for Streich's side just before the break.

A miscommunication between Atubolu and SCF defender Manuel Gulde accorded Lens striker Elye Wahi a chance to slot home the 2-0 at 45+2. Streich reacted to the deficit by pulling the trigger on a double change at the half. Michael Gregoritsch and Noah Weißhaupt came on for Makengo and Sildillia. Freiburg now played in a full 3-4-3 with Gregortisch, Lucas Höler, and Sallai forming the attacking trident. The hosts pushed deeper, sadly not creating much and leaving themselves very vulnerable on the counter.

Just when it appeared as if the match was slipping away, Sallai was able to pull the first goal back in the 67th. The Hungarian international pounced on a poor clearance off a Ritsu Doan free-kick. Freiburg were now awake, creating more chances despite the fact that a steady downpour began to render the pitch increasingly slippery. After much better opportunities were spurned, the equalizer came from a total junk play. A blindly punted free-kick cross from midfield was headed central by returning defender Matthias Ginter, on as a sub, at 90+2.

Sallai put the ball in the back of the net following multiple failed clearance attempts by Lens. The match winner also came off a curious play. Michael Gregoritsch headed a ball in Sallai's direction in the 99th. The Hungarian nevertheless found himself caught in a duel with Lens marker Massadio Haidara. Gregortisch was alert enough to chase after the ball himself and score the 3-2 from close range. Lens - looking tired and defeated - managed nothing after that beyond a red card for their emotionally-charged assistant coach.

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