Eintracht Frankfurt flying in 2021, eying Champions League

BERLIN — Germany’s best team of 2021 is not even playing at the Club World Cup.

Eintracht Frankfurt has only dropped two points from a possible 21 in the Bundesliga since the league resumed after its winter break on Jan. 2 and is staking its claim for its first ever Champions League qualification.

Adi Hütter’s team reclaimed fourth place with a 3-1 win at Hoffenheim on Sunday, when Serbian midfielder Filip Kostic stole the show with a goal and two assists.

It was just the latest exhibition of scintillating soccer from Hütter’s team, which hasn’t lost in nine games since a 2-1 defeat in Wolfsburg in December.

Only Bayern Munich, which faces Egyptian champion Al-Ahly in the semifinals of the Club World Cup on Monday, has scored more in the Bundesliga this season – 58 goals to Frankfurt’s 41 in 20 games.

The eight-time defending champions have strung together five wins since a 3-2 loss to Borussia Mönchengladbach on Jan. 8. Frankfurt’s only blip since the turn of the year was a 2-2 draw at Freiburg on Jan. 20.

“We want to play internationally and are on the right path,” Frankfurt defender Martin Hinteregger said after Sunday’s win. “Eintracht never played in the Champions League. That would be a dream of course.”

Eintracht famously played in the final of the European Cup in 1960, when the German team was defeated 7-3 in front of more than 125,000 fans in Glasgow by Real Madrid in a game considered to be a classic.

“We have a lot of quality up front and we’re scoring at the right times,” Hinteregger said.

Ihlas Bebou had pulled one back for Hoffenheim before Kostic sent in a free kick for Evan Ndicka to reply, two minutes before the midfielder crossed for André Silva’s 17 goal of the season.

Kostic’s upturn in form has coincided with the return of Serbian compatriot Luka Jovic from Real Madrid. Jovic has three goals in five substitute appearances, and his friend Kostic has set up seven since the new year.

“It’s not so easy to keep this level up,” Hütter said of Kostic’s return to form. “He’s found it again. Luka Jovic’s return has something to do with it. You could see on the day that Luka was back, that changed something in Filip. He’s again playing at a very high level.”

Hütter was pleased with his team’s response to Bebou’s equalizer.

“The double-strike showed that we’re in good condition, that we’ve confidence, that we can also put aside conceding a goal. We showed our class,” Hütter said.

The Austrian coach in in his third season at Frankfurt. He previously led Bern-based team Young Boys to a Swiss title and Salzburg to an Austrian league and cup double in 2015.

“It’s so much fun at the moment,” the 50-year-old Hütter said of Frankfurt’s charge up to fourth place, the last in Germany for Champions League qualification.

“It would be an absolute dream if the season were over. But there are still 14 rounds to play,” Hütter said. “What I won’t do is put the brakes on the euphoria. It’s there.”

Frankfurt next welcomes Cologne on Sunday before Bayern visits on Feb. 20.

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Ciarán Fahey on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cfaheyAP