Leipzig defend German Cup title

BERLIN: A Christopher Nkunku-inspired RB Leipzig won their second straight German Cup title on Saturday, beating Eintracht Frankfurt 2-0 in Berlin. A year after scoring a second-half goal which sent the 2022 final to penalties, Nkunku broke the deadlock after 71 minutes, his low shot taking a deflection and into the goal against the run of play. A shellshocked Frankfurt, who had the better of the second half looked to equalize but Leipzig scored again, Dominik Szoboszlai sweeping in an Nkunku pass on the counter.

After featuring in four of the past five German Cup finals, Leipzig’s second title in two years firmly establishes themselves alongside Borussia Dortmund as challengers to Bayern Munich’s throne. “When you win something like this, then you just have to celebrate — and that’s what we’ll do,” Leipzig midfielder Konrad Laimer told Germany’s ZDF network. Leipzig manager Marco Rose told German TV “to win a title and make so many people happy, it’s something great”. “I’ve drunk very little alcohol lately, but today I’ll be getting stuck in, I think.”

Frankfurt captain Sebastian Rode said Nkunku’s goal was the turning point, telling ZDF “we just didn’t have the power in behind” after the strike. The victory spoiled Frankfurt manager Oliver Glasner’s farewell, with the Austrian leaving the club at the end of the season after two years with the Eagles, one year after taking them to the Europa League title. Glasner said “when you go toe-to-toe with Leipzig, that’s an accolade. I am very proud of what the team has achieved in the past two years”. “I’m looking back at two wonderful years. When I think about it, I get goosebumps.”

Despite the victory, the immediate future is uncertain for Leipzig, who could lose several stars including Nkunku, Szoboszlai and Laimer in the summer. Sporting director Max Eberl confirmed a possible exit for Nkunku, telling German TV “it could be” the France striker’s last match for Leipzig. Nkunku shines Pre-game, the match had been billed as a clash of conflicting ideologies in German football. In one corner, nouveau riche Leipzig, playing in just their 14th season, against the tradition of Frankfurt, one of only four clubs remaining from the first Bundesliga season in 1963-64 guaranteed to play in next year’s top division.

The Frankfurt stadium announcer played into the conflict just before kickoff, saying “tradition can’t be bought”, a direct jab at the Red Bull-owned Leipzig. Unbeaten in their last 11 cup games, Leipzig burst out of the blocks, Werner latching onto a Dominik Szoboszlai pass just four minutes in before blasting straight at the ‘keeper. Leipzig dominated possession but Frankfurt caused problems on the counter, France striker Kolo Muani probing a defense missing the commanding presence of the suspended Josko Gvardiol.

The best chance of the first half fell to Nkunku in the shadows of halftime, the France striker cannoning the ball into the side netting past the outstretched fingers of Frankfurt goalie Kevin Trapp. Fresh from extending his deal in Frankfurt by one year until 2026 on Friday, 2014 World Cup winner Goetze grabbed control of the game early in the second stanza.

The veteran of four German Cup final wins, two with Dortmund and two with Bayern, put Kolo Muani through on goal with a perfect threaded path before forcing a desperate close range save from Janis Blaswich. With a Frank furt opener looking likely, Leipzig scored against the run of play, Nkunku’s shot from the edge of the box taking a sharp deflection of defender Evan Ndicka and into the net. Frankfurt made multiple changes pushing for an equalizer but Leipzig scored again, Szoboszlai hammering in after a sweeping counter attack with five minutes remaining to seal the win. – AFP

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