While there was a buzz about the club ahead of the visit of Real Madrid, Wednesday was a normal afternoon at the TSG Academy. To begin with, at least. The players whiled away the time before meeting at 16:30 CET, while Rapp went for a run in the early afternoon. "Activation", as it's called in modern football jargon.
For security staff and fans who were present when TSG were promoted to the Bundesliga on 18 May 2008, the journey to the Dietmar-Hopp-Stadion will have brought back memories. That was the last time the venue had been sold out and interest levels had been so high. The only difference was that the weather was much better 11 years ago. Had the irrigation system on the pitch been out of order, nobody would have noticed. During the warm-up, the rain that had been forecast finally arrived and poured down over the Kraichgau, leaving the pitch in a condition that rekindled memories of the 1974 World Cup.
Shortly beforehand, Rapp had been forced to rethink his plans when Alfons Amade, initially one of his first XI, started to experience back problems and had to be replaced in the starting line-up by Amadou Onana. The tactic of frustrating a strong Real Madrid team by keeping possession of the ball worked a treat and Los Blancos initially struggled with the "Fritz Walter" weather in the south of Germany. Samuel Lengle, who had been suspended against Dynamo Kiev, played in Max Geschwill down the left flank but his cross into the six-yard box was slightly too high for Onana (5).
TSG take opponents by storm
By this point, the stadium was in full voice. The stand behind the goal had put together an impressive choreography to welcome the players, unfurling a banner with a clear message: "Pawn beats king – checkmate". And they were rewarded for their vociferous support for the first time in the ninth minute when David Otto squared the ball to Geschwill on the opposite side of the box and the midfielder – as he did for his last-minute equaliser in the 3-3 draw in Lyon – confidently fired the ball into the bottom right corner. The celebrations in the stands had barely died down when Geschwill again broke through down the left flank and, in spite of the terrible pitch conditions, delivered a precise cross towards Filip Stojilković, who headed home from three metres out (12). It was a lightning start that resembled the period of their group game against Manchester City when they turned a 2-2 draw into a 5-2 win!
Real were reeling but they struck back six minutes later when Alberto caught TSG shot-stopper David Klein by surprise with a thunderous left-footed shot from 20 metres out. But Hoffenheim would not be unsettled at having their lead halved so quickly. Nonetheless, the pitch conditions were getting worse by the minute and sometimes the ball would even stop dead in its tracks as players dribbled and it became clear that beautiful link-up play was not going to be effective.
It was the home side who had the better of the chances in the remainder of the first half. A Stojilković volley following build-up play from Geschwill and Otto was hit straight at Diego Altube (32). Otto and Stojilković linked up again three minutes alter but the rain-soaked surface got in their way.
In the second period, it got even worse. The pitch automatically made counter-attacks a non-starter and left much down to chance. Nonetheless, Rapp's charges continued to play possession football and almost made it 3-1 when captain Benjamin Wallquist headed the ball narrowly wide following a corner on the right flank. Real went straight down the other end and were denied by Klein, who got down quickly to thwart Rodrigues from close range (59), as the game went from end to end.
Two-goal salvo from Linsbichler
As the clock ticked towards the final quarter-hour, the home faithful again had reason to cheer when substitute Tim Linsbichler – who shortly beforehand had unexpectedly found himself onside and taken a shot from distance at an open goal that went slightly wide – extended the lead on 74 minutes when his shot was so heavily deflected off an opposition player that it flew past Altube and nestled in the net. The score was 3-1. Another chapter in this unbelievable Youth League story was close to completion!
But that was not the end of the action. Pedro Ruiz tapped home from close range in the 85th minute to set up a tense finish, only for Hoffenheim put the outcome of this memorable match beyond all doubt in the 90th minute when Otto broke through down the left flank, got the better of the slushy surface and his marker and used every last ounce of his energy to have a shot at goal. The loose ball landed at the feet of Linsbichler, who tapped home from close range to make the score 4-2. Crazy!
"The weather wasn't an advantage to us. We wanted to play football too," said Rapp after the final whistle, emphasising that his charges had not suffered less than their opponents as a result of the adverse conditions. "A huge compliment to the fans, who created a marvellous atmosphere today." Next up will be a trip to Nyon for the semi-finals at the end of April. "We're looking forward to Porto and have now really built up enough self-belief to approach this game full of optimism."
Pawn beats king. Checkmate!
TSG 1899 Hoffenheim 4-2 (2-1) Real Madrid
Hoffenheim: Klein – Nitzl, Lengle, Wallquist – Görlich, Onana (Landwehr, 66), Elmkies, Alberico (Bogarde, 90+3), Geschwill – Stojilković (Linsbichler, 69), Otto.
Real Madrid: Altube – Sergio López, Fran García (Gutiérrez, 81), Chust, Blanco, Alberto (Park, 76), Moha (Pedro Ruiz, 60), Baeza, Rodrigues, César, Pulido.
Goals: 1-0 Geschwill (9), 2-0 Stojilković (12), 2-1 Alberto (18), 3-1 Linsbichler (74), 3-2 Pedro Ruiz (85), 4-2 Linsbichler (90). Attendance: 6,350 (sold-out). Referee: Nikola Dabanović (Montenegro). Cards: Bookings for Geschwill, Elmkies / Rodrigues, Baeza, Blanco, Chust.