Hertha Berlin 1 – 2 Fortuna Düsseldorf – Advantage to Fortuna in the relegation/promotion playoff

A 2 -1 win in Berlin put Fortuna Düsseldorf one step closer to reaching Germany’s top flight for the first time in 15 years.  A first half goal from defender Roman Hubnik gave the hosts a crucial lead before Bröker equalized after the hour mark.  The goal shook Hertha’s confidence and minutes later Ramos’s own goal proved to be decisive.  Hertha now face an uphill battle on Tuesday against a Fortuna side whose home record is one of the most impressive in the country.

Formations and Lineups

It was the case of a mentor against protogee, as Fortuna coach Norbert Meier spent many years at Bremen as a player under the tutelage of Otto Rehhagel’s in the 1980’s.  This week Rehhagel admitted that he finally found his preferred eleven after last week’s final matchday win against Hoffenheim so it was no surprise that he lined up with the same players, the only change being Ramos leading the line instead of Lasogga who is out with a long term injury.  Niemeyer said ahead of this match that there was no reason to take a defensive approach and the team would go all out.  Meier, whose team had a disappointing Rückrunde compared to their impressive first half of the season, made three changes following their last league match.  Langeneke, Beister and Van den Bergh replaced Juanan, Rösler and Dum.  Meier’s formation was a bit unusual.  It was neither a 4-4-2 or a 4-2-3-1 but more of a 4-1-3-1-1 with Ilso playing off lone striker Beister and Bodzek as the sole holding midfielder.  It was a risky approach, especially playing Beister, usually used out wide this season, and having him lead the line but sometimes risks have to be taken when so much is on the line.

The Match

Surprisingly it was Fortuna who started better.  The visitors had the first clear-cut chance of the game after Ilso passed the ball past Hubnik on the edge of the 16 yard box to an onrushing Lambertz on the right but Kraft was able to block the shot after reading the play and coming off his line in time.  A minute later Ilso’s free kick from the right found Bodzek but his header went over the bar.  After a strong opening 10 minutes for the visitors, Hertha Berlin took and maintained control of the match until the break. Hertha outshot Fortuna 8 to 3 in the first half, had the bulk of possession and just used the ball better. Their goal came after a Ben-Hatira corner in the 19th minute was headed in by Hubnik.

A lot of Fortuna’s play came from the right which incidentally also produced their best chance but their reliance on players like Levels in the first half limited them.  In fact, most of Fortuna’s passes were completed in their own half between the four defenders, struggling to get the ball forward without giving it away. Beister, one of their most dangerous players this season was isolated and touched the ball a measly 15 times in the first half.

The goal therefore gave Hertha the necessary confidence to finish the half strongly and as it turned out, this game was very much one influenced by confidence.  With a more assured Hertha, Fortuna became more disorderly and Raffael, Kobiaschvili and Perdedaj all had shots on goal in the span of 13 minutes but either shot wide or came up short against Fortuna keeper Ratajczak.  It was a good overall performance from the home-side in the first half.  There were many positives to take away from it including their build up and solid defending, both of which have been problem areas this season.  The only worry? They failed to capitalize on their chances, which would ultimately come back to haunt them in the second half.

The second half turned out to be nothing like the first. After a satisfying first 45 minutes all Hertha needed to do was maintain their momentum, stay disciplined and not allow Düsseldorf back into the match.  Hertha’s mental frailty has reared its ugly head one too many times this season and against Fortuna all it took was one momentary lapse in concentration to cost them a game once again.  That game changing moment came in the 64th minute after Bröker picked up the ball on the right in a seemingly harmless position, was given with all the time and space to waltz carefree past three Hertha players and beat Kraft at the near post.  Out of nowhere and against the run of play, the game was leveled, Hertha’s confidence shattered and their hopes of remaining in the Bundesliga hanging on a thread.

Things went from bad to worse after that and on 71st minute Ramos headed the ball into his own net instead of clearing an Ilso free kick.  Still shaken by the first, Hertha now had to regroup and save the result.  It was a tall task for and the closest they came was a Ronny free kick from 30 meters three minutes from time that hit the post.  Chasing the game put Fortuna in an advantageous position and always made Hertha susceptible to counter attacks, especially towards the end when Bröker cut in from the left and fired a curler that should have been a goal had it not been for Krafts brilliant reflex save.  But by then it was too late for Hertha.

Meier did well to calm his players down at half time.  He readjusted his tactics somewhat in the second half.  He pulled Beister and instructed Fink to play closer to his defense.  In the end Fink won a match high 21 duels and played a big part in disrupting Hertha’s rhythm.  There was also more variety in Fortuna’s game.  Bröker and Lambertz switched positions a lot whereas Ben-Hatira and Ebert predictably stayed in wide positions, making it easy for Fortuna’s fullbacks to pick them up.

Final Verdict

Playing the first leg at home should have been an advantage for Hertha, especially considering Fortuna’s poor form on the road. Instead they let nerves get the best of them again and collapsed under pressure. Based on the second half performance it is hard to argue that Fortuna did not deserve to win this match, especially in light of Hertha’s poor defending on Düsseldorf’s first goal.  Meier did well to adjust in the second half and outwitted his old mentor.  Rehhagel now has to go to Düsseldorf and beat a team that has lost only once at home all season.

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Cristian Nyari

Cristian is a football writer and analyst living in New York City, fascinated with the history and study of the beautiful game and all it entails. Follow Cristian on twitter @Cnyari

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