BERLIN (Reuters) -RB Leipzig defeated Freiburg 4-2 on penalties in a vibrant German Cup final on Saturday, bringing Domenico Tedesco's side their first major trophy despite playing for an hour with 10 men at Berlin's Olympic stadium.
Leipzig's Benjamin Henrichs converted the winning spot kick in the shootout after Freiburg captain Christian Guenter and forward Ermedin Demirovic missed their penalties following a thrilling clash that ended 1-1 after extra time.
"It's crazy... we had a very bad start to the game, played an abysmal first half, were too timid, didn't make it in the tackles..." Leipzig managing director Oliver Mintzlaff told broadcaster ARD.
"We had to show a different face coming out after halftime. Then came the red card, which was of course justified. The fact that it (all) worked out in the end is unbelievable.
"This is the first title in our rather short club history. We have to reflect on what we have achieved in the last 13 years and over six years in the Bundesliga. We played in front of a fantastic crowd... We have to let that sink in, it's great."
Midfielder Maximilian Eggestein had put Freiburg ahead in the 19th minute with an excellent low shot from the edge of the box, a goal which stood following a VAR review for a potential handball in the build-up.
Leipzig came close to equalising five minutes later after Christopher Nkunku's rebound from close range beat goalkeeper Mark Flekken, but defender Nico Schlotterbeck saved his side with an intervention inches from the goal line.
However as Freiburg fans began to celebrate, chanting and lighting up flares, Nkunku eventually spoiled their party with a 76th-minute leveller.
The 24-year-old France international, voted Bundesliga player of the season and beating the likes of Robert Lewandowski and Erling Haaland to the prize, bundled the ball over the line from Willi Orban's precise header.
The late equaliser poured life into Leipzig, who played with one man down from the 57th minute following a red card shown to defender Marcel Halstenberg for a risky tackle on forward Lucas Hoeler.
Both sides had chances to win near the end of normal time, while Freiburg twice hit the post and struck the bar in the extra period.
Leipzig, meanwhile, were denied a penalty for a foul on midfielder Dani Olmo after a VAR check in the frenetic dying minutes - a decision that earned already substituted Kevin Kampl a second yellow card for his protests.
Leipzig took the trophy home for the first time after they finished runners-up in 2018-19 and 2020-21.
The victory could have earned this season's Europa League semi-finalists a return to Europe's second-tier competition but they had already secured a fourth straight season in the Champions League through a top-four finish in the Bundesliga.
Freiburg have enjoyed one of the best campaigns in the club's history and, with Leipzig winning the Cup, their sixth-placed finish in the final league table earns them a return to the Europa League for the first time since 2013.
It also means seventh-placed Cologne will go into the Europa Conference League playoffs.
(Reporting by Anita Kobylinska, additional reporting by Ludwig Burger; editing by Martyn Herman and Ken Ferris)