'Auf Wiedersehen!' Cologne follow Hertha and Hoffenheim out of the Europa League
Cologne's European adventure ended on a freezing night in Belgrade with a 1-0 defeat to Red Star. Interim coach Stefan Ruthbeck's injury-hit squad simply didn't have the quality to convert their chances.
"Auf Wiedersehen! Auf Wiedersehen!" chanted the jubilant Red Star fans as Cologne's first foray into European competition in 25 years ended in a raucous, smoke-filled Marakana Stadium in Belgrade.
Despite creating more and better chances, a single goal from midfielder Slavoljub Srnic midway through the first half was enough to end Cologne's dreams of progressing to the knock-out rounds as they followed Hertha Berlin and Hoffenheim out of the competition.
Taking charge of his first game since taking over from Peter Stöger on an interim basis, former under-19 coach Stefan Ruthenbeck only had 14 players to choose from – including three youth players.
Good atmosphere, good chances
The temperatures in the Serbian capital may have been barely above zero but both sets of fans created a red hot atmosphere in the cavernous Marakana bowl. Yet while the flares lit among the 5,300 white-clad German supporters may have looked spectacular, one idiot fired one towards the pitch, landing in the middle of the Cologne players who were lining up.
Fortunately, the players and child mascots dodged the missile and it didn't seem to affect the players mentally as Cologne made a positive start and forced a string of early corners. But a Frederik Sörensen header was easily gathered up by Milan Borjan before a Milos Jojic shot was also hit straight at the Red Star goalkeeper. With his next chance, Cologne's Serbian hit the side netting.
Yuya Osako wasted one of Cologne's best chances
And so, typically for FC this season, it was the hosts who took the lead against the run on play in the 22nd minute, midfielder Slavoljub Srnic stroking home after Cologne allowed Red Star to move the ball too easily down the left wing.
Cologne will have been encouraged by the chances they created in the first half, but the second period began in a similar pattern. Christian Clemens fed the ball into Yuya Osako in the box but, having turned well, the Japanese forward elected to shoot wide rather than find one of two waiting teammates.
"The chances were there but we didn't have the quality to finish them off," admitted captain Matthias Lehmann, before summarising: "Of course we're gutted that the adventure is over. We're gutted for our fans, who were great tonight. Now we're going to aim for as many points as possible in the league."
It was to be the last real chance the visitors' created as Red Star's two banks of four sat firm throughout the second half – and Cologne were fortunate that the hosts didn't double their lead on the break.
Cologne's travelling hordes have enjoyed every minute of their European campaign and the peaceful invasion of London, plus euphoric home wins over Borisov and Arsenal, have already obtained legend status on the banks of the Rhine. They'll hope they won't have to wait another 25 years but, for now, the focus returns to their desperate situation at the bottom of the Bundesliga.
Jonathan Klinsmann made his debut for Hertha
Dream debut for Klinsmann
Elsewhere in Matchday Six in the Europa League, Jonathan Klinsmann, son of German legend Jürgen, saved a penalty on his competitive debut for Hertha Berlin, as the Berliners ended their campaign with a 1-1 draw against Östersund.
Earlier, a young Hoffenheim team earned a hard-fought 1-1 draw with Bulgarian side Ludogorets.
Borussia Dortmund and RasenBallsport Leipzig have dropped out of the Champions League and will fly the flag for Germany in the Europa League in the new year