As soon as the final whistle sounded, the 14 exhausted U19 players who had been in action − and their team-mates and supporters who had cheered them on from the bench and the stands respectively − burst into celebration. The youngsters, soaking wet but understandably in high spirits, celebrated their historic 4-2 victory over Real Madrid by jumping up and down in front of their supporters in B block. They now have a chance to make more history in their semi-final against Porto on 26 April, where a victory would see them become the first German team to reach a UEFA Youth League final.
But the U19s certainly weren't thinking that far ahead in the immediate aftermath of their triumph, instead taking time to enjoy the moment with their vociferous fans. "We were all looking each other in the eyes and getting goosebumps," said supersub Tim Linsbichler as he reflected on the outstanding atmosphere at a sold-out Dietmar-Hopp-Stadion. "We had hoped that the ultras would be there. The fact that they made a choreography for us too was amazing." His team-mate Max Geschwill was equally overawed by the fans and the feat that had been achieved. "I'm usually a rather reserved guy but I think after a game like that, you can't help but show your joy a little bit."
U19 head coach Marcel Rapp thanked the spectators and especially those fans who had played such an active role. "We must pay a huge compliment to the lads behind the goal who created an atmosphere like that. Because that boosted our boys even more. They've not seen the likes of that before," he explained. The big choreography featuring a chess reference and the words "Pawn beats king – checkmate" was just the start of 90 highly emotional minutes in which TSG Hoffenheim gave absolutely everything they had to give – both on the pitch and in the stands.
Linsbichler brace checkmates Real
While Rapp was not entirely satisfied with the performance in the opening stages, he did acknowledge that scoring two goals in 12 minutes was the best-possible start his side could have made. "We wanted to attack – like we always do," explained Max Geschwill, who opened the scoring with an inch-perfect first-time strike and then crossed for striker Filip Stojilković to head home the second. "It's a great feeling to have helped the team. I just wanted to produce the best performance I could today." The ultra-reliable left-back, who is a constant threat in front of goal, was not alone in that respect.
The wet weather, which left the pitch increasingly softer as the minutes ticked by, made normal football nigh-on impossible. But every Hoffenheim player went to their limits, which made Rapp proud. "The lads fought superbly today. The weather conditions were less than optimal for both teams, because we wanted to play football too. But to beat Real Madrid, you need to be good – and we were."
The coach again showed the Midas touch on the touchline when – 50 minutes after Real Madrid had reduced the deficit through a thunderbolt from Spain U19 international Alberto – he replaced Stojilković with Tim Linsbichler with 20 minutes to go. The Austrian striker made an immediate impact, hitting a shot that took a deflection and looped over Real shot-stopper Diego Altube. The visitors pulled a goal back on 85 minutes when Pedro Ruiz scored, but Linsbichler put the result beyond any doubt in stoppage time when he made it 4-2 after David Otto's shot was parried into his path by the goalkeeper.
Rapps makes the right calls
Rapp was particularly delighted that it was the 1.92m-tall forward whose goals decided the outcome of the game. "Tim is now in his third year here and he has spent two years injured. He has consistently managed to battle back and has shown an exemplary atittude and mentality. It's nice that he's now got his reward for all that time he spent in rehab. So there's hardly any player who has earned those goals more than Tim Linsbichler." The man himself was almost speechless as he tried to put his thoughts into words after an exhilarating match. But given the huge media interest, the Austrian striker gave it a go nonetheless. "We couldn't have imagined it any better. Knocking out Real Madrid is obviously incredible. The fact that I managed to help us get there by scoring two goals is a wonderful feeling."
Linsbichler's goals were the seventh and eighth to be scored by TSG substitutes in the current UEFA Youth League campaign, after Benedikt Landwehr's brace and Ilay Elmkies' goal in the 5-2 victory against Manchester City, the two goals from Stojilković in the 3-1 triumph at Olympique Lyon und the Swiss frontman's goal in the 2-1 defeat in Manchester. It speaks volumes for the strength in depth in the squad and Rapp's instincts. "I'm the kind of coach who likes to consider what could happen next. But obviously there's an element of luck to it," said Rapp of his strong record regarding substitutions.
Buzzing for Porto clash in Nyon
It goes without saying that it's a special moment for the 39-year-old to see TSG rewarded with a place in the semi-finals and cement their position as one of the four best teams in the Youth League this season. "At the beginning of the Youth League, we didn't really know what to expect. But then we matched our opposition in every game and often outplayed them. That has boosted our self-confidence and we're looking forward to Porto and the experience of playing in Nyon."
Following their celebrations in front of B block after the final whistle, the players are eagerly anticipating what lies ahead too. It could prove to be a challenging time for Max Geschwill and the other players taking their A-levels, however, as they have their first exam (German) on the day after the final. But the way that the lads have conducted themselves both on and off the pitch this season should leave no doubt about their ability to overcome any obstacles they face.
TSG Hoffenheim have a ticket allocation for the semi-final between the U19s and FC Porto. Further information on the sale of tickets will be available from the middle of next week. Furthermore, TSG will make an effort to supply fan buses for the trip to Nyon. Information on this will follow too.