After a first-half that belonged to Sand, Wolfsburg came out renewed after the break to run riot, a nervy last ten minutes enough to bring Sand back into it though Pernille Harder’s brace proved to be enough for WOB as they won the trophy.
Sand set the pace
A strong start from the holders saw Ewa Pajor cut around three defenders as she dribbled into the box, the Pole halted in her tracks before she could scythe closer to goal, Wolfsburg keen to assert themselves in the opening exchanges. Knowing that they were well in the tie when the two met at the same stadium last year to contest the 2016 edition of the competition, Sand showed little fear as they tried to get forward, though their attacks were far less frequent.
In a move that saw almost everyone in green involved five minutes in, Pajor was again the player with her eyes goalwards, her marker smart not to let her turn in front of goal as the Wolves looked to cause early problems. A good ball over the top saw Jovana Damnjanović played in, Isabel Kerschowski’s tracking back enough to clear the goal for a short-corner, Anne van Bonn’s volleyed effort, after Verena Aschauer had sent it back, finding the top of the stands. Though hugely separate in budgets and players, Sand’s bright start only served as a reminder of the competitive nature across the Frauen-Bundesliga; the Willstätt team overawed by neither opposition or occasion.
Winning another set-piece, this time a free kick in range, Sand opted to play short once more, Damnjanović’s lay-off for Verena Aschauer after a dummy run enough to see the Austrian international receive the ball down the channel and fire goalwards. The Wolves caught cold as the ball flew dangerously close to Almuth Schult’s top corner, but luckily for them, slipped over the frame of the goal. The set-pieces continued to flow for last year’s runners up, an inswinging corner bore a throw-in that soon became another [short] corner, the ball kept alive by Claire Savin against Pernille Harder as the Dane looked to break. Another corner followed, but swung outwards, still though Sand came, Schult unable to avert the danger as she dashed out of her box, the green defence doing just about enough to keep her clean sheet.
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In a [surprisingly] rare attack, Harder slipped around the box before lashing a shot towards Carina Schlüter’s near top corner, the young ‘keeper with good hands to knock the ball behind for an uninspiring corner. Kerschowski’s followed up volleyed well over before the teams made for the sidelines for the first water-break of the game, the temperature in Köln rising. Another foray forward saw Alex Popp try her hand from range, the skied effort typifying Wolfsburg’s frustrations, the Fußballmeisters doing little to show their quality.
Yet another free kick for Sand saw the ball sent in from deep, Laura Feiersinger’s shot another that cleared the bar, finishing at a premium but Schult’s goal under much more fire in the first-half. Even a Wolfsburg corner saw a chance for Sand, Popp’s initial header cleared and Damnjanović the one of the break for the Blues with Schult far, far out of her box. Her first touch a golden one to bring the ball down and away from Anna Blässe but charging down on the ‘keeper as she chased back to her goal, the Serbian international was in two minds whether to wait for Feiersinger to catch up for the lay-off or to chip the advanced goalie. The indecision soon saw the attacker smothered by green shirts, the chance gone for the lay-off, the last action before the break fittingly a Sand attack.
Reminiscent of their last two league games of the season, the first-half just didn’t fall as the champions wanted, their opposition not only dominant but canny in their marking, Pajor the only player who routinely found joy. The Pole a livewire in a team that lacked a resounding spark, the players underperforming by their own lofty standards, Schlüter’s lone save the closest either had come in the first 45 minutes but it was Sand who had been knocking.
Wolfsburg find their feet
Wolfsburg came out with a fire lit under them after the break, the team grabbing a hold of the ball and refusing to relinquish possession, Schlüter’s goal suddenly under pressure, a rare miscue from Harder the only thing that stopped WOB from taking the lead early in the half. On the back foot but in no mood to cool off, Sand reminded the team who bested them in the final last year that they weren’t there for the taking as Damnjanović once more streaked away, her shot gladly held by Schult.
With more and more of Wolfsburg’s attacking players getting involved, Pajor remained a persistent threat, a superb tackle from Laura Vetterlein all that kept her from getting her shot away ten minutes into the half. Pajor was then left to kick herself after failing to connect two yards out, Caroline Graham Hansen’s ball flashed into the box begging to be attacked.
Haven given a huge amount in the first-half, Sand began to look more and more off of the pace as Wolfsburg turned on the style, green shirts linking up as white began to flag, the opening goal an inevitability. Having won a corner after being played through by Blässe, Graham Hansen made no mistakes with her delivery, Schlüter’s attempted parry just too late as Harder connected first, her header too much for Cecilie Sandvej on the goal line.
A different animal in the second-half, the Wolves were relentless and soon had their second, the resolute defending from Sand in the first-half a distant memory as Harder once again got her head to the ball in the box. The header plum into the bottom corner.
Sand pull one back
Though the drama was far from over as Popp was shown a yellow for a sloppy challenge as Sand broke, the over the top objections getting her shown a second yellow moments after. The blow a double one for Wolfsburg, a player down, Sand capitalised at the free kick from the initial foul. One of the scrappier goals likely to be seen by the fans the ball was cleared and recycled, headers were missed and blocks were made before the ball squeezed out to Damnjanović to put behind Schult, the attacker well worthy of the goal.
With little time left, Damnjanović was incensed, geeing her team up, the flurry of activity on either side of the goal speaking to emotions flaring under the high sun, another handful of chances fell to Sand, their edge dulled again. Trying to close the game out by the corner flag, Wolfsburg could only see so many seconds tick by before Sand regained possession, legs heavy as their counter attack petered out, time all but out as the two sides clashed in stoppage time. The flare up enough for the referee who duly showed a dissenting Sara Bjork Gunnarsdóttir her second yellow of the game deep, deep into stoppage time, the Wolves on their way to the double would have to do so with nine. Another flock forward well over the minimum allotted time saw Sand try once more, the game having taken its’ toll, their best efforts tired and tame, the last kick of the game a scuffed shot from an exhausted Sand, the ball delivered straight into Schult’s gloves at the bottom corner.
Arguably one of the best teams not just in Germany and Europe but the world, there was a poetic nature to Wolfsburg claiming silverware in Ralf Kellermann’s last game at the helm, their second-half performance enough to see Kellermann go out on a high. For Sand it was a story of missed chances, the score that of last year’s heart-breaking final for the modest team from Baden-Württemberg, a fine first-half performance carried little value with the two locked on the scores, the champions with plenty to give after a balmy first-half from Sand.