Madness. Absolute madness. That is the only way to describe the final matchday of the 2012/13 Bundesliga season. Hoffenheim pulled off one of the great comebacks in Bundesliga history by beating Borussia Dortmund 2-1 to reach the promotion/relegation playoff and extend their chances of staying in the league next season. Meanwhile, Augsburg beat Greuther Fürth to survive another year and Fortuna Düsseldorf’s fate hung in the balance until the very final whistle.
Hoffenheim’s Miracle in Dortmund
While Freiburg and Schalke were battling for the final Champions League spot the fight for survival at the other end reached an absolute boiling point with drama Hollywood screenwriters would be jealous of. Hoffenheim went into the game all but relegated. They had the worst away record in the league and had never previously won in Dortmund. They not only needed to break a precedent, they relied on other results going their way also, needing at least one of Düsseldorf or Augsburg to lose.
Sure enough, Hannover were getting the job done by beating Düsseldorf but Hoffenheim still had it all to do in Dortmund. Robert Lewandowski made the task seem impossible when he put Dortmund in the lead in just the sixth minute. All the while, Dortmund continued to create chances. A second goal would have all but sealed their fate. It was the kind of chaos football supporters both love and hate and Hoffenheim put it all on the line by throwing everything forward and both goalkeepers made fantastic saves to keep their teams in the game.
Then, the next five minutes changed everything. In the 77th minute, Dortmund defender Mats Hummels brought down Kevin Volland in the box. Sejad Salihovic stepped up and converted with ice cool precision. Four minutes later, as Hoffenheim poured forward, Weidenfeller was forced to come off his line and in doing so conceded another penalty and was sent off. With all three substitutions made, Kevin Grosskreutz had to step into goal but Salihovic again stepped up and proved why he is arguably the best penalty taker in the league. 2-1 Hoffenheim. Dortmund supporters could hardly believe it.
Things weren’t over yet though. In stoppage time Schmelzer scored what looked like a devastating goal that would send Hoffenheim down but the assistant referee correctly judged it offside. Although in complete disbelief they had done it and now await their two biggest games in recent history against Kaiserslautern.
Augsburg’s second half surge
As Hoffenheim were playing for their lives, Augsburg very much had their destiny in their own hands. A win would at least guarantee them a spot in the playoffs and a Düsseldorf loss would guarantee them another year in the league. It wasn’t easy for them though. Augsburg goalkeeper Alexander Manninger saved an Edgar Prib penalty in the 5th minute after Prib had already scored from the spot before Tobias Welz made him retake it because a player had entered the box prematurely.
Manninger’s save was a turning point for the team and inspired a 3-1 win to keep the team in the league for another season. Augsburg were tied for last place in the first half of the season, with only nine point and a single win. They went on a 10-match winless streak (worst in club history) and 10 points off safety. Suffice to say, no one gave them a chance to stay up.
A change in formation, some positional reshuffling and a renewed vigor in the second half of the season completely changed their fortunes. They tightened up their defense (have not lost a single game when going up 1-0) and made some astute signings to supplement striker Sascha Mölders and the rest followed. They picked up 24 points and 7 wins since January and outperformed 11 other teams in the league.
Fortuna Düsseldorf on the other hand had somewhat of a reversal in fortunes. They started the campaign well with five consecutive clean sheets and finished the first half of the season in 13th place. Things then went downhill after the winter break. Fortuna finished the season on a 12 match winless streak and with the worst Rückrunde record in the league. When all is said and done, as defender Jens Langeneke admitted, it’s a record worthy of relegation.
Hoffenheim take on Kaiserslautern in the relegation/promotion playoff on May 23rd and 27th, the first leg at Hoffenheim.
Header courtesy of Reuters
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