Union Berlin captain Christopher Trimmel smiled as broadly as the corners of his mouth would allow. Champions League. At Real Madrid. At the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu. That still sounds unreal.
Like a good mood from the football god, who has been kind to the Iron Men for so long. And so, before the game on Wednesday (6:45 p.m./DAZN), Trimmel looked down from the mighty press podium in Madrid and gave the impression that he just wanted to enjoy every moment from now on.
"We're trying to prepare as always. And now it's Real's turn," said Trimmel. That sounded like an attempt to emotionally tone down the greatest moment in the history of the Bundesliga club. Coach Urs Fischer also noticed that he naturally felt the premier class tingle, at the latest when the team bus turned onto the magnificent Paseo de la Castellana.
"First of all, I think this is a reward for a great last season. We put in a lot and deserve the reward," said Fischer about the game against Real. An assessment that is also shared by his much more famous Real colleague Carlo Ancelotti. "They are a new team in the Champions League, but that means they did very well last year," said the 64-year-old Italian.
Fischer definitely wanted to erase the impression that the premiere in the premier class had a touch of a school trip. Trimmel also emphasized: You want to fly home with a “positive experience” that you can “tell your children about one day.”
Awe and fear not desired
Fischer didn't want to forbid his players from taking cell phone photos as souvenirs in the huge silver bowl in the heart of the Spanish capital, even if he was a "bit old school" himself. But: All sentimentality must be hidden. “Awe and fear are exactly the two things we don’t need,” said Robin Gosens.
The international reached for the huge trophy with Inter Milan in May, but the 1-0 defeat in the final against Manchester City hurt. The 29-year-old was brought to Berlin by Union Berlin's wonder buyer Oliver Ruhnert as well as Leonardo Bonucci precisely for these big appearances. Italy's European champions are on the biggest stage possible before their Union debut, as defense chief Robin Knoche is out injured, as Fischer reported.
Union at Real. In any case, much more contrast is hardly possible in top European football. Here the workers' club from Berlin-Köpenick, which persistently styles itself as an underdog, there the trophy collectors' club, which is oriented towards galactic glamour. Union's only title, the FDGB Cup victory in 1968, disappears in the shadow of the Royals' 14 Henkel pots alone.
Union's lasting miracle
But why shouldn't Union's long-term miracle since promotion to the Bundesliga four years ago continue at the Bernabéu? "90 minutes of football in which the small opponent can sometimes hurt the big opponent. There are numerous examples of this in football," said Gosens. You can't afford to be sloppy, as was the case recently in the league against RB Leipzig (0:3) and VfL Wolfsburg (1:2). "But it's also a nice experience to play against a team like that, we try to do our best, fight as a team and maybe something is possible," said defender Danilho Doekhi.
In the Bundesliga and last year in the Europa League, the ignorance of the opponents often helped. But the Union is no longer so small as to be underestimated, not even internationally. And then there is Toni Kroos, the big brother of Felix Kroos, the former Union captain. “I was allowed to warn a little about Union,” he reported shortly after the draw in the “Einfach mal Luppen” podcast with his brother about his Real colleagues’ curiosity about the unusual opponent from East Berlin. "The good thing is, these days you can know everything about the opponent in football. We have studied them very well," said Ancelotti.
The expected lineups:
Real Madrid: Kepa - Lucas, Rüdiger, Alaba, Fran Garcia - Modric - Camavinga, Bellingham, Kroos - Rodrygo, Joselu
1. FC Union Berlin: Rönnow - Doekhi, Bonucci, Leite - Juranovic, Kral, Gosens - Laidouni, Tousart - Becker, Behrens
Referee: Espen Eskås (Norway)