The Cup Dream is Over
SK Rapid fell agonisingly short as Sturm lifted the Cup in Klagenfurt on Sunday. A day of nerves, emotion and fervent support ultimately ended up in disappointment after two second-half goals put the game, and the trophy, beyond Rapid’s reach.
Perfect weather and pure emotion: everything was set up for the UNIQA ÖFB Cup Final in Klagenfurt, as Rapid took on SK Sturm. On the Saturday before the big game, around 1,000 Rapid fans came to give the team a fitting send-off on the journey to the final, showing just what an important day Sunday’s showpiece was to the whole Rapid family. The colours of Green & White shone proudly all around the Wörthersee Stadium (28 Black Arena) in the build-up, as our fantastic supporters filled the city before filling the stadium itself. The starting XI were tasked with bringing home Rapid’s first ÖFB Cup trophy since 1995, but it would be a huge ask against Sturm on the day.
The game began in a way worthy of any cup final, with the intensity being felt not just in the packed grandstands, but also on the pitch, as neither set of players were giving an inch anywhere. In the opening minutes Sturm were on the ball slightly more, but Rapid forced them into loose passes in the midfield, and the first moment of note was a clash of heads which saw Patrick Greil receive treatment (7’) rather than a big chance. Opportunities on goal would remain hard to come by in the first half, although Nic Kühn went on a solo run before seeing his shot blocked (12’) and Sturm keeper Arthur Okonkwo was not tested. Niki Hedl in the Rapid goal showed his quick reactions, as he and Kevin Wimmer prevented Emmanuel Emegha from heading the ball over the line after a free kick was nodded back into his path five yards out. Hedl sprang forward to pluck the ball out of the air as it was mostly behind the line (20’) but VAR confirmed he’d clutched it just in the nick of time.
Players were going in hard for challenges, and niggling fouls here and there stopped any real momentum building on either side, and still the best chances were only longshots, like the one Hedl punched away simply a few minutes later. Roman Kerschbaum tried his luck from outside the area, and Nic Kühn was constantly using his pace to get into crossing positions, but on the whole the first 45 minutes was a stereotypical cup final, with two closely matched teams canceling one another out, meaning it was 0-0 at the break.
Our team stayed the same for the second half, but amongst the incredible scenes from the two sets of fans as the game restarted, the action on the pitch was almost as stunning. After a loose back-pass, Emegha was clean through on goal, Hedl reacted decisively and forced him to the left, where he lost control and missed his chance, he passed back for Manprit Sarkaria, and he then blazed the ball wide from a more than advantageous position (47’). A let off! Hedl remained alert to take the sting out of a long range effort a little later (54’), and with chances on goal increasing, Marco Grüll went forward for the Green & Whites, but as he got in front of the keeper, he was unable to connect for a really dangerous shot (58’).
The Grazers went close again with a cross that was headed over, and Emegha spurned one chance with a dinked finish that rolled wide; however after 66 minutes came a huge blow to Rapid. A through ball eventually made its way to Sarkaria, and he clattered the ball in off the underside of the bar to put Sturm ahead by a goal to nil. That setback took Rapid out of any stride that the team were in, but the boys battled as hard as possible for every ball in a quest to get back into it. Head Coach Zoran Barišić reacted by bringing on Ante Bajić for Nic Kühn (71’) before Oliver Strunz and Ferdy Druijf came on in place of Marco Grüll and Patrick Greil (81’) with the team searching hard for some attacking impetus. Crucially, the changes didn’t quite deliver the clear-cut chances that we needed, and after a break at the other end, Niki Hedl was able to make another big stop, before the rebound was deflected unfortunately past his next dive and high into the net for 2-0 (84’).
At that point it was looking extremely difficult, but as the team pushed on Roman Kerschbaum came so close to reducing the deficit in stoppage time, only for Okonkwo to tip the ball just over the top (90’+2). After a couple more minutes, the Cup final came to a close, confirming Sturm’s 2-0 win. It’s a defeat which hurts more than ever, as the whole Rapid family wanted the title so badly. However it was not to be this year, and we will find a way to push on and come back stronger with your incredible support behind us. RAPID.
UNIQA ÖFB CUP | Finale | 28 Black Arena
Tore: Sarkaria (66., 82.)
Rapid-11: Hedl; Auer, Moormann, Wimmer, Schick; Pejić, Kerschbaum; Grüll (81. Strunz), Greil (81. Druijf), Kühn (73 Bajić); Burgstaller ©
Ersatz: Gartler, Strunz, Koscelnik, Oswald, Bajić, Druijf, Zimmermann