Luka Jovic sent Eintracht Frankfurt into a second-consecutive DFB-Pokal, meaning Niko Kovac’s last game in the charge of the club will be against his future employers Bayern Munich.
It was a hard fought victory against Schalke 04 though, with the young Serbian’s crafty flick coming after 75 minutes of attritional football and some important saves from goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky.
They were lucky to hang on though, having Gelson Fernandes sent off before Franco di Santo’s would-be equaliser in stoppage time was controversially disallowed for apparent handball.
First half fails to live up to excitement of Tuesday night
Schalke were coming off the back of a memorable 2-0 over great rivals Borussia Dortmund on Sunday, however one of the heroes from that game, Yevhen Konoplyanka, had to make way for Marko Pjaca for this match. Kovac made three changes from their heavy 4-1 defeat to Bayer Leverkusen – Marco Russ, Omar Mascarell and Jovic returned at the expense of Simon Falette, Danny da Costa and Fernandes.
The opening semi-final 24 hours earlier between Bayern and Bayer Leverkusen saw eight goals – six to Bayern – with three in the first 15 minutes. This would not be the same kind of thrill-a-minute contest, with both sides starting cagily. Last year’s runners-up had the only real chance early on, coming after a ball from Jonathan de Guzmán was blocked. Jovic’s low shot on the rebound was saved by Ralf Fährmann.
The best the hosts could manage in the first half was a Daniel Caligiuri free-kick which was turned wide by Thilo Kehrer. However the winger was central to their best opportunities of the half. Leon Goretzka’s cross found its way to Caligiuri, whose shot was deflected out for a corner. He took it himself, and found the head of Guido Burgstaller. His header was on target but was put over the bar by Hradecky.
Frankfurt’s outfielders couldn’t back up that save with anything at the other end, a Marco Fabián shot going well wide. The Eagles then suffered a major blow just before the break, as talisman Kevin-Prince Boateng hobbled off having picked up an injury. And in stoppage time there was minor controversy, as Fährmann and Jovic collided in the Schalke box. After all sorts of remonstrations, referee Robert Hartmann gave a drop-kick in the area, ultimately claimed by Fährmann.
Hradecky and Jovic the heroes for the Eagles
Schalke reversed their change to the starting line-up soon after the break, with Konoplyanka coming on for Pjaca, but there was no immediate change to the pace of the game. Fabián at least tried to test the Schalke with a couple of attempts, with one well over and the other, an overhead kick attempt, ultimately over the bar as well.
Slowly but surely Schalke realised there was a game to be won. A Burgstaller was well deflected away from goal by Russ, before some big saves from Hradecky. A Caligiuri ball found Burgstaller but Hradecky got a touch before Makoto Hasebe cleared. An even more important save came minutes later. Konoplyanka and Goretzka shared passes, with the former’s shot kept out by the Finnish goalkeeper - who sporting director Fredi Bobic announced after the game would leave the club in the summer.
This time his side did back up his efforts, and how. Frankfurt had a corner, which came in from the left from de Guzmán. It found Jovic, who audaciously flicked the ball past his marker and into the back of the net. The ‘Kovac vs Bayern’ narrative was already being written.
It wouldn’t be straightforward though. Kovac brought on Ferandes, presumably to help the defensive effort, soon after the goal, but within three minutes he was gone. It could have been even sooner. He quickly rushed into a rash, studs-up, challenge on Goretzka, for which he was initially only booked. VAR though then came into play, with Hartmann eventually deciding to upgrade the yellow into a red.
After that, Fabián almost made the game safe but was denied by Fährmann. Schalke then thought they had been saved. A corner was initially cleared, as was Goretzka’s cross back into the box, with the ball coming the way of di Santo, who controlled the ball and fired in. Whether he brought the ball down with his arm or his chest was not clear from replays, but Hartmann thought the former, and disallowed the goal before refusing to turn to VAR. Frankfurt had made it back to Berlin, just.