Will the Bundesliga finally get an exciting title race again? In the overture in the cup quarter-finals, Sturm Graz knocked out serial winners Salzburg after a penalty shoot-out. “Of course it gives us self-confidence that we can stand up to such a team,” said Sturm coach Christian Ilzer. “We can meet Salzburg on an equal footing in some games. But there are still 16 rounds to play.”
In front of them, Graz is six points behind Salzburg – and Sturm has become the champion’s feared opponent: In the last four competitive games, the Styrians are unbeaten against Salzburg, and promotion to the cup was their second win.
“In the first half we had an extreme intensity, should have gotten a penalty. I was really happy with that,” said Ilzer, who missed the penalty whistle when Oumar Solets bumped into Emanuel Emegha. Arthur Okonkwo, the new no. “There’s no question he has to keep the 1-1 lead, but he did other things well and exuded great calm,” said Ilzer, defending Jörg Siebenhandl’s successor. “I always felt that we were mentally determined. I never had any doubts that we would win the game.”
For his Salzburg counterpart Matthias Jaissle it was one of the rare disappointments in his coaching career. “Huge” she is, explained the German, who is working to ensure that the defeat leaves no traces. “We have an extremely young squad. Of course there’s a lot going through our heads. But it’s a huge learning process for the boys, they should do that too. Then I’m confident that we’ll achieve our goal, the championship.”
“Luck is on our side”
After the 3: 1 after extra time in Wolfsberg, Rapid is back in the cup semi-finals for the first time since 2019. At that time, the Viennese made it to the final and lost 2-0 to Salzburg.
The relief at having cleared the Wolfsberg hurdle was evident in the Rapidlers, after all they had only been able to celebrate four wins in 21 competitive games there before. “We were lucky not to go 2-0 down,” explained coach Zoran Barisic. “The team never gave up. Overall, we deserved to win.” In extra time, ex-Rieder Ante Bajic decided the game with two goals, in which he overcame goalkeeper Lukas Gütlbauer. Bajic: “I’ve had three chances before, where I have to make at least one, so I’m all the happier that the two then worked out.”