FREIBURG, Germany — The last Bundesliga game before a long World Cup break brought plenty of drama as Vincenzo Grifo scored a hat trick in the opening 20 minutes to fire Freiburg to a 4-1 win over Union Berlin and up to second place on Sunday.
Bayern Munich goes into the two-month break — by far the longest in the main European leagues — with a four-point advantage over Freiburg. Union is fifth and winless in three games after having led the league in recent weeks.
Video review played a key role in a battle between two teams which emerged as surprise challengers at the top of the table this season, but lost momentum recently amid busy Europa League schedules. There were two penalties for each team and a red card for Union which ended any hope of a comeback.
Grifo needed just four minutes to give Freiburg the lead from the penalty spot after handball by Union’s Christopher Trimmel. Three minutes later it was 2-0 as Grifo played a one-two with Michael Gregoritsch on the counterattack before scoring.
Union had a penalty but Robin Knoche smacked his shot against the post. Freiburg’s third goal killed off the game as Union defender Diogo Leite was red-carded and gave away another penalty for hauling down Ritsu Doan as the last defender, allowing Grifo to complete his hat trick. Gregoritsch added a fourth for Freiburg just before halftime and Sven Michel scored a late spot kick for Union.
Going into the break as Bayern’s closest challenger and a firm contender for Champions League qualification is the latest step in years of steady and occasionally spectacular growth for Freiburg, a team from southwest Germany, which narrowly missed out on lifting the German Cup in a penalty shootout last season.
As at many other stadiums across Germany this weekend, Freiburg’s fans displayed banners calling for a boycott of the upcoming World Cup in Qatar. Slogans displayed around the stadium ahead of kickoff decried Qatar’s record on human rights.
Eintracht Frankfurt started the day with a shot at taking second place if it won and Freiburg and Union drew, but instead dropped points in a combative 1-1 draw at Mainz.
Mainz took the lead when Jonathan Burkardt bundled the ball in at a corner after a fine double save from Frankfurt goalkeeper Kevin Trapp. Back in the Germany team for the World Cup for the first time since 2017, Mario Götze played a fine pass to set up Randal Kolo Muani to level the game for Frankfurt.
Frankfurt goes into the break fourth after missing the chance to overtake Leipzig. Mainz is 10th and without a win in four games since beating Cologne 5-0 on Oct. 21 as a once-promising push for European qualification faded.