DÜSSELDORF, Germany — It’s been a long road back to the European elite for Eintracht Frankfurt.
Sixty-one years have passed since Frankfurt lost to Real Madrid 7-3 in an epic European Cup final in front of a crowd of 127,000 in what is still considered one of the greatest games in the competition’s history.
Frankfurt has not played in Europe’s top club competition since and its city is better known as the home of the European Central Bank. But Frankfurt is now on course to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
Frankfurt hosts Wolfsburg on Saturday in a match between the two clubs which have disrupted the Bundesliga top four this season, squeezing out more established names like Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen. Saturday’s game will be a test of strength for two clubs trying to hold on to their European places even as they dream of more success.
Wolfsburg goes into the game in third, eyeing the three-point gap to second-place Leipzig. Frankfurt is fourth with a seven-point cushion over Dortmund in fifth.
Both clubs have risen by virtue of being very hard to beat. They each have three losses from 27 league games this season, the same number as runaway leader Bayern Munich, but they’ve achieved those records in very different ways.
Frankfurt’s main man André Silva. The Portugal forward has been revitalized since leaving AC Milan for Frankfurt, first on loan, then on a permanent deal last year. He has 22 goals in 25 Bundesliga games this season, second only to Bayern striker Robert Lewandowski. That includes the 87th-minute winning goal which lifted Frankfurt to a 2-1 win over Dortmund last week to tighten its hold on fourth.
Silva is backed by a supporting cast including Filip Kostic, who leads the league with 11 assists and set up both goals against Dortmund. Frankfurt coach Adi Hütter has been linked with the vacant job at Borussia Mönchengladbach, though, and it’s unclear if he’ll stay for next season.
Wolfsburg’s success is built on its solid defense. The team has conceded 22 goals all season, tied for best in the league with Leipzig, and 15 fewer than Frankfurt. Up front, tall target man Wout Weghorst has 17 league goals and is the main attacking threat for a club bidding to return to the Champions League for the first time since 2016.
Wolfsburg is better known for its success in the Women’s Champions League. The women’s team has reached the final five times and won the competition in 2013 and 2014. The men came painfully close to one of the all-time Champions League shocks in 2016, leading Real Madrid 2-0 after the first leg of the quarterfinals before Cristiano Ronaldo turned it around with a hat trick for Madrid in the second leg.
Frankfurt’s impressive record in cup competitions shows it can succeed in the Champions League. In the last five years, it’s won the German Cup and been runner-up, and reached the Europa League semifinals in 2019 before a tough loss on penalties to eventual winner Chelsea.