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May 13, 2013

Schalke, Freiburg set for Europe decider

Schalke are set for a surprise final showdown with Freiburg for the Bundesliga's final Champions League spot after Saturday's shock 2-1 defeat at home to VfB Stuttgart.

On the final day of the 50th Bundesliga season, Freiburg take on the Royal Blues and three points for Die Breisgauer would see the two teams swap places.

It will be an unusual final unfolding at Freiburg's Dreisamstadion next weekend. Throughout the season SC Freiburg have never been placed higher than fifth and on the final match day could leapfrog into fourth position, the place that guarantees two Champions League qualifiers next season.

When Christian Streich took over the club during the 2011/2012 winter break, Freiburg were ranked 18th, had only picked up 13 points in 17 games and lost their star player Papiss Demba Cisse to Newcastle United. Over the next 17 games, Streich lifted the team out of the relegation zone to finish 12th.

Fast forward a year and Freiburg's cult figure has led his team all the way to Europe. Despite several key players like top scorer Max Kruse and midfielder Johannes Flum leaving the club at the end of the season, Freiburg collected 15 out of a possible 21 points during their last seven games and have narrowed the gap to Schalke 04 to only one point.

"Looking back one and a half years this is not to be conceived," Freiburg president Fritz Keller said at the weekend. On Monday, papers in Germany praised Freiburg. "The ultimate football fairytale," the renowned nationwide daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung headlined. They praised Freiburg boss Sreich for throwing the 20-year old Tim Albutat into the game during the final minutes of the game.

"When it was on a knife edge he handed Tim Albutat his debut. Because he trusted him, knowing him from their shared history at the club's youth academy. Where else could you imagine something like this?" FAZ commented.

"Sometimes you are out in the sun, that's just how it is," Streich warned after Freiburg's 2-1 victory at Furth. "The first thing you need to do, wear a cap to not get burned and prepare for other days to come," he added, knowing all too well that if it had not been for goalkeeper Oliver Baumann, Freiburg could still be in danger of losing out on Europe altogether. Baumann saved a stoppage time penalty by Furth's Djurdjic to hand Freiburg the three important points.

Before the Furth game, Streich extended his Freiburg stay when the club officially announced a new "long term deal" with the 47-year old and his coaching staff. "Those are our most important signings," president Keller said at the weekend.

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