In front of the arena they sat in their sweaty yellow shirts, visibly exhausted, many with a beer in their hands. The heavy defeat in the third final against FC Bayern was only an hour and a half old, but it has to go on, even for Alba Berlin’s most loyal fans. So off to Munich, game four on Sunday (3 p.m., Magentasport and Sport1), the next chance. In the past two seasons, the Berliners have won the championship there in the Rudi-Sedlmayer-Halle.
If it just doesn’t work out at home with the title – it was the last time in 2003 – then there’s a big party on the way back from Bavaria. At least that is the hope of the Berlin supporters and players. “The fans are behind us, regardless of whether we win at home or away,” said Oscar da Silva, who was born in Munich and was still the best Berliner in an overwhelmed team in the 60:90 swatter on Friday.
Shortly after the game, Alba was again defiantly optimistic. “They kicked our butt and we’ll certainly think about it a bit tonight,” said Captain Luke Sikma. In the final series, however, it is still 2: 1 for Berlin. “The good thing is we’re playing again on Sunday and have another chance in Munich.”
Marco Baldi classified the situation even more soberly. “Even if things get difficult in Munich, there is still a chance,” said the Berlin manager. A crucial fifth game would take place again next Wednesday in the Arena am Ostbahnhof. But Alba doesn’t want to let it get that far despite the impressive frame. “We won’t play like that again,” coach Israel Gonzalez was certain.
On Friday, his team put in one of their worst performances in five years – and that on a night when everything was perfectly prepared. Alba had previously won 19 games in a row, including the first two finals against Bayern. The opponent had to do without four regular players, while the entire squad was fit on the Berlin side. Munich looked tired and drained, Alba inspired.
For the first time in almost two and a half years, the hall with 14,500 spectators was completely sold out and ready for the big party. Before the game, the trophy shone on its pedestal in the spotlight, the club’s eleventh championship was within reach.
But the people of Munich had no desire at all to play as an extra. They were superior in every respect from the first second and, with an impressive performance, achieved the highest away win in the finals for more than 20 years. “This appearance defines the culture of our team. That was the best answer you can give today,” said Munich coach Andrea Trinchieri.
The Berliners seemed completely surprised by this willpower of Bayern. “We weren’t ready,” said Louis Olinde. In the past few days, fans, media and experts were largely in agreement: In this series, Alba is simply superior to Munich and the championship will be decided in the third game on Friday. Maybe the players of the defending champion had heard this narrative too often and already had the party in the back of their minds. “We were partially paralyzed,” said Gonzalez. “They did everything better than us and we didn’t grab free rebounds.” In addition, the shooting rate from distance with two goals from 21 attempts was scary.
While players struggled to determine the cause of their collective blackout, Baldi’s explanation was quite simple. “The great conditions made us stiff,” said the manager. For many players it was the first final in front of such a backdrop and with a supposedly perfect starting position. “Then you go into a game like that and you want too much, you’re a bit cramped.”
Baldi did not want to overestimate the fact that there was a formidable smack for the Berliners at the end of a one-sided 40 minutes. “The result doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what mental state we’re in now,” said the manager. There is only 42 hours between the end of game three and the start of game four. The team traveled to Munich on Saturday, there is practically no time for playful adjustments.
The main task for Gonzalez and his coaching team is to get Friday’s defeat out of your head and restore confidence in your own strengths. Alba must not be afraid of losing the championship that was already believed to be secure, but must drive to Munich with determination to win it there. Or as Gonzalez put it: “We have to rediscover our identity.”
It is an unfamiliar situation for the Berliners, who are used to success. They suffered their last national defeat on March 27, after which they rushed through the rest of the main round and the playoffs. However, there were no major concerns among the players and those responsible. Alba has often found the right answer to difficult situations this season. “We’re still 2-1 up and have two match points,” said coach Gonzalez – and his team knows from personal experience that returning from Munich with the trophy in tow also has its appeal.