The Christmas break is well known as a time to enjoy being with your family, eating too much and...checking back on the highlights of the year in football.
Our year of football began at full throttle - we faced an UNIQA ÖFB Cup quarter-final test against runners-up Sturm Graz at the Red Bull Arena, while our European journey took us to a UEFA Europa League meeting with the star-studded AS Roma. In both cases our boys were narrowly beaten. Sturm squeezed passed us on a penalty shoot-out, while Jose Mourinho's side cancelled out our last-minute home win to go through 2-1 on aggregate.
The way we battled back from these upsets to race to the title was quite remarkable. Matthias Jaissle and his charges racked up win after win in the ADMIRAL Bundesliga as we became Austrian champions for the tenth consecutive year. We did not lose any of our 16 encounters in the second half of the season. It is easy to say which of our 11 wins in the spring was the best - our clash against Sturm in Matchday 30 that saw youngster Karim Konate net a dramatic late winning goal. The 2-1 win saw us seal the title and made for a fond farewell for Christoph Freund before he left for Bayern. We looked the part for our title party in our final home match of the season against Austria Klagenfurt - with our limited-edition special Nike shirt, which featured a stunning Black and Gold design!
There were new faces in our ranks as we began our mission to defend our title. Our coach Gerhard Struber and sporting director Bernhard Seonbuchner took the reins and led our boys out of the starting blocks in style. We were in proud possession of a 100% record six matches into the season - as we went a staggering 37 matches unbeaten to set a new ADMIRAL Bundesliga best just in time for the competition's 50th birthday!
While our Red Bulls experienced their first defeats of the campaign against the two clubs from Linz, we finish 2024 with an incredible record in Austrian football. Gerhard Struber's XI are sitting pretty at the summit and remain in the cup thanks to a heart-rate heaving (ba-boom!) last 16 tie against Hartberg that saw Alex Schlager and the team win a penalty shoot-out.
UEFA Champions League
All that is left to muse about now is our Champions League campaign this autumn. It began with an exclusive draw event at the Salzburg Container Terminal. Under the motto of destined for Europe we found out in front of 100 lucky competition winners amid the shipping containers that we were set for Lisbon, Milan and San Sebastian. Our side showed immediately that they had what it takes by taking a win at Benfica. The heroic 2-0 victory set the stage for further highlights, but it proved to be an extremely challenging group and a Benfica goal in stoppage time just nudged us into fourth place and saw an end to our European campaign for the season.
We have our sights set on great things again in the spring - we want to take the double back to Salzburg! That would ensure we can look forward to more magical Champions League nights next autumn - we certainly have a lot to look forward to over the next 12 months, with any luck.