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Wörthersee Stadion, Klagenfurt, 1st May 2021
It was a case of what could’ve been for LASK as they suffered defeat to Red Bull Salzburg in the 2021 UNIQA ÖFB Cup Finale. Goals from Mergim Berisha, Brenden Aaronson and Enock Mwepu sealed a third consecutive triumph for Jesse Marsch’s side. Alex Schlager brilliantly saved a penalty from Patson Daka midway through the second half, and there were brief glimpses of goal, but ultimately the Linzers came up short on the night.
Dominik Thalhammer’s side had looked for a first major trophy since their glorious league and cup double in 1965, and was also LASK’s first appearance in an ÖFB Cup Finale since 1999. Red Bull Salzburg, the reigning cup holders, were no stranger to finals or trophies after lifting seven of the last nine ÖFB Cups, including the last two in finals against Rapid Vienna in 2019 and Austria Lustenau in 2020. LASK were dealt a blow in mid-week after stalwart defender Phillipp Wiesinger was ruled out with an ankle ligament injury, with Petar Filipovic stepping back into the starting XI.
With Dominik Thalhammer deploying his preferred 3-4-3 formation, LASK started the match on the front foot with an intensely high press, yet neither side could find a rhythm in the frantic opening exchanges. But as the skies over Carinthia opened and rain began to fall over the Wörthersee Stadion, so did the game, as Daka was unleashed down the right but his squared ball was cut off brilliantly by Gernot Trauner. The Red Bulls began to dominate proceedings with a period of sustained pressure, capped off by a Mergim Berisha header producing a sensational fingertip save by Schlager.
Immediately the Linzers broke clear and forced a throw in on the right. James Holland stepped up and launched the ball to the near post where Petar Filipovic flicked on, and Andreas Ulmer lashed the ball clear with uncertainty – it could’ve gone anywhere. From the resulting corner, Rene Renner headed over.
The second big chance of the game fell to Salzburg’s American starlet Brenden Aaronson who dinked over Schlager after breaking the defensive line, but to the disbelief of the Red Bull bench put it a foot wide. A minute later, Enock Mwepu found space at the back post but Trauner was there to intercept the attempt on goal, followed by Antoine Bernede firing wide from distance.
Despite Salzburg’s numerous opportunities Thalhammer’s side were beginning to open up gaps as Johannes Eggestein strode forward but saw his eventual effort deflected into the arms of goalkeeper Cican Stankovic. However, as the clock struck the 45-minute mark, Berisha found space on the edge of the penalty area and hit the ball directly into the bottom corner to put the holders ahead – a hammer blow to LASK.
With the complexion of the second half changed by Salzburg’s opener, the Black and Whites had to find some more intensity in the attacking third. They showed promise early on as Renner almost set up Balic in the box, and then a Goiginger cross gave Salzburg some more defending to do. Michorl then cut onto his right foot in the area, before firing directly at Stankovic in goal with the most clear cut chance of the game for the Linz side.
As the hour mark approached, the cup final battle threatened to boil over, with players and managers alike getting increasingly heated. Berisha almost took some of the sting out to the occasion when he hit a surprise shot towards the near post from a tight angle, but Schlager was able to parry the ball behind. Despite LASK’s attacking efforts, they found themselves 2-0 down when a breakaway allowed Aaronson space on the edge of the box, he picked his spot and curled in Salzburg’s second after 66 minutes.
Moments later, Salzburg upped the ante again, and as Berisha ran free down the middle he collided with Schlager in the LASK goal. The referee signalled for a penalty, but Schlager denied Daka from the spot, meaning that the game was not quite over yet. Substitutions began to affect the flow of the game, and perhaps unsurprisingly Salzburg were not keen to leave any spaces in behind as they sat on their two goal advantage.
Filipovic scooped a bouncing ball over the crossbar as LASK attempted to force a way back into the game, but in the end they couldn’t cause the serial champions enough problems, and when Adeyemi crossed for Mwepu to tap in with two minutes left on the clock, the tie was over at 3-0. Even a late attempt at a consolation goal from Reiter was deflected away from close range, and it simply was not to be LASK’s evening.
By The Other Bundesliga (@OtherBundesliga)
LASK: Schlager; Andrade, Trauner, Filipovic, Holland, Michorl (Grgic 63’), Ranftl, Renner, Balic, Eggestein (Altunbas 81’), Goiginger (Reiter 63’)
Subs: Gebauer, Ramsebner, Madsen, Sabitzer
Red Bull Salzburg: Stankovic; Ramalho, Ulmer, Wöber, Kristensen, Mwepu (Okafor 89’), Bernede (, Aaronson (Seiwald 89’), Junuzovic (Bernardo 77’), Daka (Adeyemi 72’), Berisha
Subs: Mantl, Sucic, Solet
Goal: Berisha 45’, Aaronson 66’, Mwepu 88’