Schalke have defeated Eintracht Frankfurt 2-0 at home to solidify their hold on the Bundesliga's third and final automatic Champions League qualification spot. It was a well-earned win, capped by a wonderful free kick.
Friday night's encounter was a chance for Schalke to make some important headway on their campaign for European qualification. For Frankfurt, a win would put them firmly in the league's middle pack and make their faint relegation worries even slimmer.
The match began slowly in Gelsenkirchen. Although unafraid to foul, neither side looked willing to charge forward. Julian Draxler's yellow card 27 minutes in for a foul on Martin Lanig (which will see him miss next week's match against Stuttgart), looked certain to be the highlight of the first half until Klaas-Jan Huntelaar's opportunity.
Nine minutes before the break, Max Meyer crossed into the box and Huntelaar's low header directed the ball towards goal, but goalkeeper Kevin Trapp was able to save. It remained the only dangerous moment of the opening 45 minutes, and the two sides entered the dressing room level.
Schalke heat up
The second half saw a completely different Schalke side. Almost immediately Jens Keller's men looked to attack. By the hour mark, they had taken the lead.
Fifty-nine minutes in, Sead Kolasinac rattled the crossbar with a powerful shot from distance. Trapp managed to block Huntelaar's follow, but was unable to stop Max Meyer from tapping in Schalke's third attempt.
Just moments later it looked like Schalke had doubled their lead through Draxler, but the 20-year-old attacker was judged offside.
The hosts were handed yet another opportunity in the 66th minute when Frankfurt's Carlos Zambrano brought down Draxler in the box. But again Frankfurt had Trapp to thank for keeping them in the match when he saved Huntelaar's penalty.
Attempting to grab hold of a match quickly spiraling out of control, Frankfurt coach Armin Veh brought on Vaclav Kadlec and Jan Rosenthal for Tranquillo Barnetta and Alex Meier. The change helped to spread Frankfurt's play and made Schalke noticeably less dangerous down the flanks.
What Frankfurt couldn't muster, though, was an attack of their own. Joselu's shot in the 75th minute would be the only true test for Schalke keeper Ralf Fährmann.
Farfan with the decider
As stoppage time approached, substitute Jefferson Farfan made it 2-0 for the hosts with a wonderful free kick. Curled up and over the wall, Trapp could only watch as the Peruvian's shot sealed Frankfurt's fate.
"In the first half I was totally unsatisfied, because we made a lot of mistakes. I said that to the team in the dressing room as well. But then, much respect, we played considerably better," Keller told broadcaster Sky after the match.
The win puts more space between Schalke and Borussia Mönchengladbach in the race for the Bundesliga's third place spot. And depending on how Borussia Dortmund fare in their contest against Bayern Munich on Saturday, second place may not even be out of reach.
Despite the loss, Frankfurt can be fairly confident of avoiding relegation this year, sitting eight points above the relegation zone with four matches to play.