Germany: DFB Pokal
0 - 1
(0 - 1)
G. Xhaka (17), K. Odilon (44)
By Peter Weis@PeterVicey

Ten-man Leverkusen hold off Lautern to secure the "double crown"

Xabi Alonso's Bayer 04 Leverkusen have finished the 2023/24 cycle unbeaten in 52 of their 53 competitive fixtures. In practical terms, this translates to the club's first ever double. Leverkusen captured their first ever league crown this year. Now they've captured their second ever DFB Pokal; the first domestic cup for Germany's red company team since 1993.

The result also ensures that VfB Stuttgart will face Leverkusen in next autumn's DFL Super Cup. Eight-placed Bundesliga side 1. FC Heidenheim will also contest next year's UEFA Europa Conference League playoffs. Defeated 2. Bundesliga side 1. FC Kaiserslautern were unable to send off retiring trainer Friedhelm Funkel in style in what was probably the German coaching legend's final match.

Bayer 04 Leverkusen have captured their first-ever double crown. The 2023/24 German Bundesliga Champions - despite faltering in the Europa League Final on Wednesday - managed to hold on to defeat 2. Bundesliga opponents 1. FC Kaiserslautern in the 2023/24 DFB Pokal Final at the Olympiastadion in Berlin on Saturday evening. The Pfälzer Red Devils, after falling behind early, were given a full 45 minutes with a man advantage to at least send the match to extra time. Germany's red company team nevertheless held on with ten men to secure a 1-0 victory and their second German domestic cup.  

Xabi made five changes to the XI he deployed on Wednesday in the Europa League Final. Lukas Hradecky returned to take the place of Matej Kovar in goal. Patrik Schick, Jonas Hofmann, Robert Andrich, and Odilon Kossounou also dispatched Josip Stanisic, Piero Hincapie, Exequiel Palacios, and Amine Adli to the bench. Schick took over as lead striker while Florian Wirtz slid left and Jeremie Frimpong moved behind Hofmann in a another one of Alonso's 3-4-3 variants. Friedhelm Funkel lined Lautern up in a defensive-minded 4-1-4-1. 

The 2. Bundesliga finalists were able to force an early tactical foul out of Kossounou via a counter-attack in the 3rd. In the immediate aftermath of the ensuing free-kick, the Pfälzer were able to pull a couple of half chances out of the early momentum. The German champions nevertheless quickly wrested control back and were soon threatening to score the opening goal thanks to clear supremacy in passing, ground, and aerial duels. FCK keeper Julian Krahl and central defender Boris Tomiak had to be at their best to keep die Werkself from netting the 1-0. 

The lead would come shortly after the quarter-of-an-hour-mark when - as has been the case many teams this season - Bayer midfielder Granit Xhaka crept up and had a go from distance. The Swiss superstar picked up an attempted clearance from FCK fullback Ben Zolinski in the 16th, showing no hesitation in then curling a gorgeous effort into top left corner from just outside the are central. Lautern were visible rattled after Xhaka's dream-goal. The Palatinate Red Devils had difficulty holding on the ball for long.

Frimpong and Alejandro Grimaldo came close to doubling the advantage while the heavy underdogs spent most of the time back on their heels. Shortly before the end of the first half, however, the match took an unexpected turn. Kossounou - already on a yellow following his 3rd minute foul - pushed Kenny Prince Redondo in the back and took out Tomiak via an ankle-tackle within a one-minute span. Match official Bastian Dankert had little choice but to show the out-of-control Ivorian his second yellow. Leverkusen were reduced to ten-men. 

The Pfälzer pushed hard in search of an equalizer after Kossounou was sent off in the 44th, coming very close to the 1-1 at 45+3. Xabi's crew pulled back considerably and we rather lucky to head into the tunnel with their slender lead intact. Both Funkel and Xabi employed changes at the break. Ragnar Ache replaced Daniel Hanslik at lead striker for the FCK while Stanisic and Adli took over for Hofmann and Schick on the B04 side. After a prolonged pyro delay caused by the Lautern supporters, the match struggled to pick up tempo. 

Leverkusen sub Stanisic came closest to scoring the 2-0 off a corner in the 56th. Funkel's men appeared unwilling to take many risks despite the man advantage, opening up only around the hour-mark. Ache sent an ambitious effort wide in the 59th. Three minutes later, the subbed-on FCK danger man was able to test Hradecky with a much better long-range-shot. Matters unfortunately calmed down from the Pfälzer after the double chance. Leverkusen spurned their own double chance at putting the game to bed in the 75th. Frimpong failed to finish into an empty net and Adli shot wide. 

As full time approached, both teams began to look leggy and devoid of ideas. Funkel brought on an additional attackers in the form of Richmond Tachie and Aaron Opuku. The Red Devils simply weren't able to overcome their collective exhaustion and put together anything constructive going forward. The match entered injury time with Alonso's team still ahead. A final push from Lautern nevertheless did not come through end minutes of injury time. Xabi's Werkself closed out the game comfortably and professionally. 

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