Europa League: Points from the penalty spot for Union and World Cup dream

Kevin Behrens just roared his opinion.

Europa League: Points from the penalty spot for Union and World Cup dream

Kevin Behrens just roared his opinion. "Icy cold guy," chanted the 1. FC Union Berlin striker as he walked behind Robin Knoche in the interview zone.

Knoche himself smiled briefly and then went on to explain in a calm and matter-of-fact manner how he had converted the crucial penalty kick for the Irons to the important 1-0 win in the last home game of the group stage in the Europa League against Sporting Braga. Another bone, another penalty, like a 1-0 win against Malmö FF two weeks earlier. Thanks to Knoche, Union can hope for a place in the knockout phase of the Europa League.

Between the two European Cup goals, however, the life of the 30-year-old as a footballer changed in one decisive nuance. It has been known since Tuesday that the defense chief of the Irons is on the provisional World Cup squad list from national coach Hansi Flick. This is understandable given his performance for the Bundesliga leader, but it now gives new relevance to each of his actions in the Union jersey, at least until the squad is reduced to the final size of 26 on November 10th.

Even the permanently realistic Union coach Urs Fischer disregarded the very high probability that Knoche will ultimately not fly to Qatar with a disguised advertising message for his top performer. "Having a good penalty taker in your team helps you," said the Swiss with a grin when asked if Knoche's renewed goal could impress Flick.

Knoche didn't even talk about the World Cup after the win. He had already publicly stated during the week that the first selection made him very happy. After all, it was almost eight years ago in November 2014 that he was nominated for the ailing Jérôme Boateng for the end of the successful World Cup year for the test in Spain. The then 22-year-old was not used by ex-national coach Joachim Löw in Vigo.

In Germany's defensive nomenclature, Knoche isn't among the top four or five central defenders set to travel to Qatar, but he's not far behind either. His game is extremely solid, but has some weaknesses in the vertical opening of the game, which is important for Flick, compared to Antonio Rüdiger, Niklas Süle or Nico Schlotterbeck.

In Union orbit, however, it is an absolute top performer with its robustness and consistency. He fits into the Köpenicker structure of players who did not make it elsewhere, in his case at VfL Wolfsburg, but flourished again in south-east Berlin. He missed just one of 18 games in three competitions this season. "I expect experienced players to take responsibility, even in tricky situations. It wasn't easy today either," said Fischer. "He did it confidently."

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