Who are Eintracht Frankfurt? The only Bundesliga side left in the Europa League after Bayer Leverkusen, Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig all fell by the wayside.
They are the team that put three goals past Barcelona at Camp Nou to win their quarter final. They’re the side that ended David Moyes and West Ham’s dreams making the final.
They’re the side Rangers will have to beat in Seville if they are to lift a European trophy for the first time since 1972.
When Frankfurt president Peter Fischer learned that his side would face Rangers in the final, he delightedly said that the match was “tradition versus tradition”.
The comment was a not-so-veiled dig at beaten semi-finalists RB Leipzig, who are reviled in Germany for buying their way to the top in just a few years. But Fischer was also underlining the fact that his side have roots that go deep into German football’s history.
Formed in 1899 after the merger of two Frankfurt sports clubs (Eintracht translates as United), the club may not be the most decorated in history, but they’ve a proud tradition as one of the Bundesliga founding clubs and with a habit of enjoying a little success once every decade or so.
The club only boast one league title, earned in 1959, but are five-time domestic cup winners. They won the last ‘proper’, single-trophy Intertoto Cup in 1967 and lifted the UEFA Cup in 1980, beating Borussia Moenchengladbach in an all-German final, with a young Lothar Matthaus scoring in his first full season as a professional.
The Eagles reached the Europa League semi-finals in 2018-19, but for most Scots, the team’s name provokes the memory of another continental campaign.
Eintracht reached the final of the European Cup in 1960 and took part in what’s considered to be one of the greatest matched of all time. In front of a record 127,000 spectators at Hampden, they were beaten 7-3 by a Real Madrid side that included Ferenc Puskas and Alfredo Di Stefano in a star-studded line-up.
That wasn’t the only Glasgow connection in that memorable season though, and Rangers fans won’t want reminding when they meet in Seville. The Ibrox club were Frankfurt’s semi-final opponents and fell to a 12-4 aggregate defeat, their worst European scoreline ever.
This year’s heroes
If Frankfurt fans grow misty-eyed at stories of the 1960 team, they might be a little more realistic when it comes to the ups and downs of the current side.
The Europa League campaign has brought nothing but joy, but that’s contrasted with a mediocre domestic season the club will be happy to see the back of.
After narrowly missing out on Champions League qualification last season, form in the Bundesliga seemed to desert the Eagles for most of this term. It took seven games to register a win, the team only won three league games after the winter break, and an 11th-place finish was ultimately a big disappointment. Their German Cup challenge lasted one game, ending in a 2-0 defeat to a third-tier side.
The Europa League was in huge contrast to the domestic struggles. A group containing Olympiacos, Fenerbahce and Royal Antwerp was topped with relative ease and Frankfurt progressed with an unbeaten record.
A Real Betis side laid in wait in the last 16 and were beaten 3-2 on aggregate, but only after a winner in the final minute of extra time. That set up a quarter-final date with Barcelona and what most people assumed would be Frankfurt’s exit.
A 1-1 draw in Germany in the first leg raised a few eyebrows but the second leg produced one of the stand-out results in the tournament. Frankfurt raced to a 2-0 lead by half-time in Camp Nou, added a third on 67 minutes, had a man sent off and then saw Barcelona throw everything at them and score two injury-time goals when they needed three.
The Eagles then met West Ham in the semi-finals, again as underdogs, but took a first-minute lead at London Stadium and never really looked back. West Ham equalised on the night, only for Frankfurt to restore their one-goal advantage in the second half. A 1-0 home win made for comfortable passage to the final, despite their English Premier League opposition.
Meet the boss
The run has been overseen by Oliver Glasner, who has taken on his biggest job to date.
A former defender, who retired after suffering a brain haemorrhage after heading the ball, Glasner turned his attention to coaching after hanging up his boots and took his first job as an assistant at Red Bull Salzburg in his native Austria.
That spell was followed by his first major job at SV Reid before another move. At LASK, where Glasner had complete control of the football side of the club, he took them from the second division to the first, then to the Europa League and then Champions League.
That minor miracle caught the eye of Wolfsburg and Glasner made the switch to the German Bundesliga.
Two years at the Volkswagen Arena and he repeated the trick: Europa League one season, Champions League the next. That prompted another move last summer, this time to Frankfurt.
Though the team has had a mixed season, that can partly be put down to a summer of transition. In addition to Glasner arriving and new staff being put in place, the new boss also had to oversee a pretty extensive turnover of players, with Portuguese star Andre Silva among those leaving the club.
By Glasner’s own admission, it took a while to bed players in and settle into a style and he concedes that he’s surprised his side are in the final.
That doesn’t mean he thinks his side are taking a step too far though.
“We have an opportunity to win a European trophy, the Europa League,” he said. “We didn’t believe it at first but now we firmly believe it’s possible.”
Unity and physicality
Results against the likes of West Ham or Barcelona don’t arrive without a fair bit of sweat and a bit of know-how, and Glasner has discovered a way to get the most from his squad on European nights, much like his opposite number at Rangers.
In a recent interview with UEFA, he laid out his team’s attributes.
“Our main strength is our unity,” he said. “We have a great team spirit in the squad.
“In the knockout stage, we always had suspended or injured players and the ones who replaced them gave it all and performed so well. We can play physical football at high intensity.
“We are very organised and made it really difficult for West Ham, Barcelona and Betis to score against us.
“We’re a team who can quickly play forward, at a high pace, and the players are ready to play to their limits. We will need to repeat that against Rangers.”
Centre-back and vice-captain Martin Hinteregger might have been among the players Rangers would be studying, but injury against West Ham ended the Austria international’s season.
Goalkeeper Kevin Trapp has a four-year stay at PSG on his CV and only Allan McGregor has made more saves in the Europa League this season, while attacking midfielder Daichi Kamada has five goals in the competition already and will have to be closely marked.
The jewel in Frankfurt’s crown is Filip Kostic. The Serbian plays off the left and is the creator-in-chief as well as being a goal threat.
In the Bundesliga this season, Kostic has four goals and nine assists, while in the Europa League he’s found the net three times and set up five.
On the opposite flank, 20-year-old Ansgar Knauff, on loan from Dortmund, has found his shooting boots at the right time, scoring against Barcelona and West Ham and now has Rangers in his sights.