“It is the last chance to create some history” according to Torsten Lieberknecht, and Eintracht Braunschweig will have to do that if they are to secure a return to the Bundesliga after a three-year absence on Monday night.
Whilst the manner of the goal was contentious, Wolfsburg firmly controlled the first leg and are confident of seeing the job through to avoid an embarrassing relegation, just two years after finishing as Bundesliga runners-up.
Lieberknecht rues penalty mistake
Wolfsburg go into the second leg with a narrow 1-0 lead, earned through Mario Gomez’s first half penalty. It was a controversial one though, with Gustav Valsvik right on the line of the penalty box when the ball hit his hand, and Gomez appearing to handball it in the build-up as well.
Straight after the match, head coach Lieberknecht felt the penalty had been the perfect of example of why he “hates” the relegation play-off. “It is a decision that hurts,” he said whilst lamenting that their whole season could end up hinging on it. Referee Sascha Stegemann later admitted he should not have given after seeing footage of the incident.
It could have all been very different though, had Mirko Boland headed in a superb chance just over ten minutes before Wolfsburg scored. The midfielder didn’t want to dwell on it though. He said the goal would have been great for them, “but we must quickly move on from that.”
Wolfsburg on the other hand were pleased with their performance on Thursday, with goalkeeper Koen Casteels pleased to have kept a clean sheet. “We were solid defensively,” he said, although he admitted that the Boland chance was the one defensive lapse, saying that it “should not have been allowed to happen.”
Yunus Malli meanwhile praised how aggressively his side played. “We got stuck in, created chances and set-pieces and we allowed nothing through the back,” he said. He was adamant it “was just the first step” though, and he expects the second step to “be even more intense,” meaning they would have to step up their performance levels “a few percent more.”
A tall order for the Lions
Despite home advantage, the stats don’t bode well for Braunschweig. Of the five 2. Bundesliga teams to win the play-off in its history, none lost the first leg, and since their reintroduction in 2008-09, both 1. FC Nürnberg and Fortuna Düsseldorf had won their first legs before seeing the job through in the return match.
Their record in their nine previous meetings is not encouraging either, with just two previous victories. There is also the small matter of the away goals rule – if Wolfsburg score again at the Eintracht-Stadion, then the Lions will need to score three to win. That could be a tall order given how little Wolfsburg gave away in the first game.
Braunschweig’s home form has been impressive this season though, with 13 wins in 17 2. Bundesliga games, their only defeat coming in early February against FC St. Pauli. However Wolfsburg have been much better on the road, picking up an extra point away from home over the course of the Bundesliga season.
It might be an uphill task for Braunschweig then, but Lieberknecht said his side were “willing and confident” to succeed. “Nobody has deserved promotion more than us,” he believes, given how hard they've had to work for it, and he says that his team has to “get up” for one last performance.
Kumebla and Ntep injuries rule them out
Braunschweig suffered a major blow on Thursday night when top scorer Domi Kumbela was forced off with a muscular problem just 12 minutes after coming on as a substitute. He will definitely miss the second leg, as will Julius Biada who also has a muscular issue.
19-year-old striker Phillip Tietz, who scored six goals in his last five games for their second team, could be an option with Kumbela and Biada out, but it would most likely be from the bench.
After a successful trip to De Lutte in the Netherlands to prepare for the first leg, Wolfsburg have had a second camp, this time at Marienfeld, ahead of this game. Andries Jonker said on Sunday that it gave his team the opportunity to “rest” and allowed them to “work well and regain our focus.”
Already being without five first team players, Paul-Georges Ntep is now also out of the second leg after picking up a muscle sinew tear on Thursday. Despite a thigh problem, Josuha Guilavogui travelled to Marienfeld but Jonker said they will wait until Monday to see if he can play.
If he doesn’t, that could allow Maximillian Arnold back into the starting line-up, as would Luiz Gustavo dropping back into defence. Vieirinha is the most likely replacement for Ntep having replaced him at half-time on Thursday.
Eintracht Braunschweig: (4-4-2) Fejzic; Sauer, Decarli, Valsvik, Reichel; Omladic, Boland, Moll, Hochscheidt; Hernández, Nyman.
VfL Wolfsburg: (4-2-3-1) Casteels; Träsch, Wollscheid, Knoche, Gerhardt; Gustavo, Guilavogui; Vieirinha, Malli, Didavi; Gomez.
Quotes via Kicker, Sport1 and VfL Wolfsburg.