It wasn’t so much physical pain that Benedikt Höwedes felt after 120 minutes in the Europa League quarterfinal second-leg against Ajax, rather it was the disappointment of losing in such agonising fashion which really left its mark on the Germany international. Despite winning the home leg 3-2, Schalke crashed out of the competition after extra time, eventually losing 4-3 on aggregate. The Schalke captain speaks to us about his post-match feelings and his club and international colleague Leon Goretzka, who put in a valiant performance before going off injured.
Question: Benedikt Höwedes, it was a football match that you couldn’t take your eyes off. How much pride did you take from the 3-2 win?
Benedikt Höwedes: If I were to say that that’s football, then it would be true, but it really hurts, because we showed from the first second that we had it in us. We wanted to make up for the poor performance last week in Amsterdam. We really believed that we could turn it around. We fought for every ball, gave it everything and led 3-0 in extra time. We created chances and even in the first couple of minutes we had two good chances to score. I have to give a huge compliment to the team and also the fans contributed, they pushed us and it was a lot of fun. Sometimes the footballing Gods are unkind and we found that out bitterly.
Question: Was that perhaps the saddest victory that you’ve experienced in your time at Schalke?
Höwedes: It was bitter. When you get back to the dressing room and see the players so disappointed, you try to reassure them as an older player that they couldn’t have given any more because we put in a great performance. We had got ourselves into a winning position and deservedly so and then they won the game from a situation that really wasn’t a huge chance for them. We tried to clear the ball and it just rebounded into the goal. That was the decisive moment in the end. It hurts. It really, really hurts.
Question: How did you prepare for the game? Did anything special happen in the dressing room?
Höwedes: We watched a video which contributed to our performance. Everyone knew that we needed to make up for our poor performance last week. It was our obligation to give a better account of ourselves and we did that well so credit to the team. We gave it everything and never gave up even after it went to 3-1.
Question: Leon Goretzka was an example of Schalke’s character yesterday. He led from the front aggressively and even injured his jaw just before half-time. What did you make of that?
Höwedes: Leon gritted his teeth – in the truest sense of the word. He was struggling at half-time but still carried on and gave everything he had. Then he scored our all-important first goal. He gave us hope with his goal and paved the way for our comeback. We’re very proud of him for carrying on and we hope that the injury isn’t serious and he’s back soon.
Question: What impression did you have of Goretzka’s condition at half-time?
Höwedes: That he had a knock and had a problem with his head. I didn’t know what it was exactly. He didn’t spend much time with us in the dressing room. He was getting treatment. We have to praise him for carrying on.
Question: To what extent do you see the game against Ajax as a reflection of Schalke’s season as a whole – with highs and lows?
Höwedes: In the Bundesliga we have been up and down and we’re behind where we want to be. In the Europa League, we’ve had some special nights because we’ve played with freedom. People have seen from these performances the class that we have in this team. It hurts to go out the way we did. It will take a day or two to reflect on it, but we don’t have that much time because we’re back in action on Sunday against Leipzig and we need to give another good performance because Leipzig are deservedly second in the table.
Question: You’ve been here a long time now. Can you immediately turn your attention to a league match just a day after a game like that? It’s hard to imagine…
Höwedes: Right now I can’t imagine it, no. We’re all humans and we have feelings. The disappointment is deep, but could we have given anymore? Not in my opinion. We did a lot of things right and unfortunately we didn’t manage to get through.
Question: Do you need a Per Mertesacker ice bath?
Höwedes: Already had it. No worries.
Question: How difficult will the latest injuries make it for your team?
Höwedes: We’ve suffered a couple of injuries which have really hurt us. But some of the other players need to step up and, for example, replace Leon Goretzka who has been playing well.