Very slowly, as if they wanted to delay this long-awaited moment of reunion a little longer, the Cologne winners approached the simmering south curve late on Saturday afternoon.

For the first time in more than two years, the ranks were as occupied as before the pandemic.

The Ultras and other active fans were back, singing passionately, performing complex fan choreography and ending with a thrilling football game.

A game that 1. FC Köln won 3-2 after being 2-0 down.

"Now I really know what Cologne is like, what the club is like, it's just amazing," said Dejan Ljubicic after he and his colleagues had ended the day with a wild victory dance in front of the standing stands.

For the first time, Cologne experienced a real Steffen Baumgart spectacle with real FC support.

Although coach Baumgart was by no means in high spirits when he looked back on this game a little later.

It is well known that his team is characterized by good “morale” and a stable “mentality”;

these characteristics, which many other coaches would have emphasized at the end of this football adventure, are now a matter of course for the idiosyncratic head coach from Cologne.

Baumgart not only wants dedication, he also wants to see good football, and Mainz showed that for an hour at best.

Baumgart: "A lot of mistakes"

"We already know that we have to do better in the next few weeks," said Baumgart after his team had "simply made a lot of mistakes" for an hour.

Cologne's claims have increased after the club can no longer be relegated mathematically.

In fact, FC have a realistic chance of qualifying for a second European competition this millennium and games like this are often recognized as pivotal moments at the end of years of success.

Mainz was initially very confident, having led through goals from Jonathan Burkardt (14th) and Karim Onisiwo (55th), while the Cologne game faltered not least due to the absence of leader Salih Özcan.

The midfielder was unable to train all week due to illness.

He was only substituted on after an hour, along with Ljubicic and Louis Schaub, that was the turning point.

A minute later, Ellyes Skhiri scored from a corner to make it 1:2 (60th), followed by a furious half hour of Cologne football power.

Ljubicic (78th) and Luca Kilian (82nd) ​​finally turned the game around.

"I also have no idea where we always get that from," said the winning goalscorer Kilian and enthused: "The team sticks together so well, we are a tight-knit bunch, everyone gives everything for everyone, everyone tries

The crowd also got wilder and wilder, the team won almost all important duels, the Cologne game worked better in terms of football.

But above all, FC defeated the guest from Rheinhessen with electrifying energy, which had a lot to do with Özcan, who appeared with a completely different charisma than his representative Jonas Hector before.

Baumgart explained that he only “rarely” says something like that about a single player, but Özcan “cannot be replaced at the moment”.

Everyone has seen "the stability and mentality with which Salih is on the move.

I would say he was a big factor.”

Before this turning point, the Cologne football world had felt very different.

The Ultras were back, but the club faced a kind of worst-case scenario.

The great arch-rival from Mönchengladbach, where the Cologne team will be guests next weekend, was three points behind FC in the lightning table.

The supporters of Borussia could even dream of overtaking Köln if the games went well next weekend.

If Müngersdorf hadn't been able to catch up, Cologne would have to look for reasons for a phase of six games with just one win.

They are now spared all that.

Instead, people could belt out their old European Cup song, which has tended to be sung with an ironic undertone in recent years.

Now there is no longer any utopia behind it,

"Everything that comes now are games in which there is a lot at stake for us," said Kilian.

"We want to win, and now of course we're not looking down anymore." The table region between fifth and tenth place, where the participants in the smaller European cups below the Champions League are played, could become a focal point of the final weeks of the Bundesliga.

And in Cologne, everyone wants to travel across the continent, even if it ends up being just the Conference League.