Werder Bremen booked their spot in the second round of the DFB Pokal on Saturday night, as the Green-Whites beat fourth tier side Carl Zeiss Jena 2-0 at the Ernst-Abbe-Sportfeld.
A tight and tense affair, Bremen opened the scoring through Josh Sargent minutes into the start of the second half before Tahith Chong put the game to bed with a late goal of his own. It wasn’t the prettiest performance, of course, but the Green-Whites got the job done and avoided the cup upset.
Story of the match
Bremen, as many expected, controlled the contest early on. They were the ones on the ball, moving it around quite well while testing the waters going forward.
That led to chances being created, and Theodor Gebre Selassie even hit the woodwork in the 17th minute. Picked out by a brilliant cross into the area, the fullback tried to redirect his header towards goal, but could only manage to ping it off the near post.
Jena grew into the game, to their credit, and started having some possession of their own. Every touch was cheered by the home crowd, who were finally back in the stands and were starting to believe a cup upset could be on the cards.
Green-Whites forward Davie Selke came close when he slammed a shot towards the near post, but his effort was denied after a solid save from keeper Lukas Sedlak.
There was a potential penalty for Carl Zeiss in the final moments of the first half. Captain René Eckardt was tripped up by accident in the area by Selassie, but despite the contact, the referee chose not to point to the spot.
That would conclude a relatively tame opening 45 minutes, as neither side really seemed dangerous on the attack. It certainly looked like the first game of the season for both of them.
Bremen thought they had broken the deadlock on two separate occasions moments into the second half. It began when a header from Selke bounced back off the crossbar from a corner. Then Josh Sargent seemed through on goal, but he decided to pass instead of shoot, losing the ball in the process.
They would finally break the deadlock soon after, though. A pinpoint cross from Ludwig Augustinsson flew right to Sargent at the back post, and the American made no mistake with the finish this time around, heading home from a few yards out.
The Green-Whites kept piling on the pressure, coming inches away from doubling the lead as Leonardo Bittencourt saw his shot roll just wide of the target. He probably should have passed, to be fair, as he had two open teammates to his right.
Bremen should have had a penalty in the 70th minute when Bittencourt was brought down in the box, but it seems the referee decided to not make the call since he didn’t give Jena a penalty in the first half.
The home side had their biggest chance of the contest with roughly 10 minutes to go. A set-piece was poorly defended by the Green-Whites, and the ball fell right to forward Eckardt, who hit a volley towards goal. However, Jiri Pavlenka was ready for it, reacting quickly to make the save.
The tie would be settled in the 89th minute, as substitute Tahith Chong broke free on the counter attack before calmly slotting home from close range. The goal had been coming, and Bremen fans will be happy to see the Dutchman get on the scoresheet on his competitive debut.
Jena won’t be too upset with their showing, but the Green-Whites just had too much quality to handle, ultimately booking their spot into the next round of the German cup.
It was a professional performance from Bremen, who did what they needed to on the night.
Sure, they didn’t look great going forward, but they looked better than they had the year before. Playing two up top helped, as Sargent and Selke were able to play off each other going forward. They even got service from out wide, with Chong looking especially impressive off the bench.
Defensively, the Green-Whites didn’t make any foolish mistakes, with the backline looking quite solid throughout. Pavlenka stepped up when needed as well, which is great to see going into the Bundesliga campaign.
They were playing a team in the fourth division, of course, but a win's a win no matter what. Bremen lacked confidence last season, so hopefully this result will provide a nice boost going into next week’s league opener against Hertha Berlin.
Man of the match - Josh Sargent
Scorer of the winning goal, Sargent was the most impactful player on the pitch for either side.
He was constantly involved going forward, doing a little bit of everything on the night. At times, the American would drop in deep to pick up the ball and open up space for teammates. Then, he would make runs of his own in behind, keeping the opposition defense on their toes throughout the contest.
The goal was a well taken one, as Sargent found space at the back post and headed home with composure from close range. He had more chances to score, and will hopefully become more clinical as the year goes on.
If Sargent can play like this during the Bundesliga campaign, then Bremen will look much more dangerous on the attack. Hopefully this goal is the first of many for the striker this season.