After the bitter cup-out in the semi-finals, LASK hit back not even 72 hours later and defeated Sturm Graz in the 24th round of the Admiral Bundesliga after a deficit of 2:1 (match report>>>). And it may even turn a duel into a three-way battle for the championship.
The expectations were high after the cup fight on Thursday in Graz-Liebenau. The first half of the top game of the round couldn’t keep up in the brand new Raiffeisen Arena. Both teams were too well adjusted to the strengths of the opponent.
“It was really a game where I would say that both teams played well, but they didn’t muster the energy now,” LASK head coach Didi Kühbauer also knows about the cautious first 45 minutes.
Storm hit as the initial spark for LASK
The fact that it was goalless in the dressing room was also due to Alexander Schlager, who defused three good opportunities for the “Blackies”. “I think that at times in the first half we might not have done our things so well, but it was 0-0 at half-time,” said the 27-year-old in an interview with “Sky” after the game.
After the change of sides, both teams wake up – but Storm faster. Alexander Prass put the visitors in front after a very nice attack just three minutes after the restart. A wake-up call for the “athletes”: “When we conceded, we had our backs to the wall, but then we invested energy,” Prass’ goal was the initial spark for Kühbauer.
When the score was 0:1, Schlager made a strong save against the well-positioned Jusuf Gazibegovic. “I’m happy if I could help one time or another,” the LASK goalkeeper is aware of his actions.
As a result, the resurrection of the people of Linz should take place. Keito Nakamura initially failed with a header from around six meters at Arthur Okonkwo, who also made a strong save. Substitute Ibrahim Mustapha converted the margin after a good hook ice cold (71st).
“Concerned” about Nakamura after header goal
The winning goal was not long in coming and came just under ten minutes before the end. After a sensitive cross from Mustapha, Nakamura did it better this time and headed halfway into the left corner to make it 2-1.
The headed goal of the 1.80 meter tall Japanese even surprised coach Kühbauer: “Keito (n. Nakamura) is a player who cannot be neutralized 100 percent, but the fact that he is now scoring goals with a head worries me because it’s really a weakness he has and one he’ll probably never shake. But I’m still over the moon that he scored.”
Teammate Robert Zulj sums up the importance of Nakamura for LASK, not forgetting the collective: “Top player with a top team. Scores a lot of goals, a lot of assists and is very good for us.”
After the 0-2 comeback against Austria Wien last week, the three-pointer even followed this week after going behind: “We’ve often been able to bring back deficits, were 1-0 down against a top team in Austria today and come back like that again , that speaks for the team. That makes me incredibly proud today,” enthuses Kühbauer about his team.
LASK put the “sausage on it”
“I’m convinced that after the 0-1 draw, many believed the ‘Kas’ was eaten, but the lads proved that the ‘Kas’ wasn’t eaten yet, we put a sausage on top of it,” enthuses Kühbauer from his comeback artists.
In the final phase, the “athletes” don’t let anything burn and bring the narrow lead safely over time. At the final whistle, Didi Kühbauer broke all dams, a “human reaction”, as he says himself. The 52-year-old sprints halfway across the pitch and emotionally hugs his team.
Kühbauer basically wanted to make his “would-be run” even faster, but then had to “pay tribute to his age”. The former Rapidler is still satisfied with his condition: “For a 52-year-old, it’s still good enough.”
A few minutes later he explains his jubilant run: “A reaction that the players deserve because I think if you’re 1-0 down and still come back and still win the game, then you have to show respect to the players. That I have the players with this run.”
Three days off? “Anyone who knows Didi knows…”
Zulj hoped that Kühbauer’s joy would continue into the catacombs: “I hope the coach will give us the next three days off.” But he adds in the next breath: “Anyone who knows Didi knows that it probably won’t happen,” beamed the midfielder after the comeback victory.
The “incredible” game even gave Zulj goosebumps in the interview. The 31-year-old summed it up: “With a lot of strength, will, passion, the fans and the stadium”, the victory was a success.
The victory in today’s Bundesliga game did not make up for Thursday’s Cup-out: “I would have preferred it if we had made it into the Cup final and won today. The defeat on Thursday was very, very bitter.” , Schlager still mourns the finale.
But they also took courage from the defeat: “We saw in the game on Thursday that we can get our chances and opportunities and that it wouldn’t have been impossible to win against them on Thursday. We wanted to do that better, especially at home in the stadium, it’s nice that it worked out,” sums up the keeper, who already has a plan for the future but prefers to keep it secret.
Kühbauer and the phrase
With today’s victory, the “athletes” secured third place in the table. Will they now be looking even further ahead in Linz? The second-placed storm is only four points away thanks to the win. Leader Salzburg is still eight points away with eight rounds to go and two direct duels.
“We want to play internationally, we’re taking it from game to game, it’s always that phrase, but that’s just the way it is. We can’t start building things now,” Kühbauer doesn’t want to think about the big hit.
The league is “the daily bread”, as Schlager explains, and where you “want to work out a good starting position for the next season”.
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