Despite giving up an early goal VfB Stuttgart never wavered and defeated Hamburger SV 2-1 in a battle between two long-standing Bundesliga clubs fighting for survival.
Boosted by their recent success of scoring at least one goal in seven straight matches, Stuttgart started the match with confidence. The possession battle was fought on Hamburger’s side of the pitch and it seemed inevitable Stuttgart would take the lead from a close range goal.
Nope. Around the 12th minute, Hamburg midfielder Gojko Kacar headed a free kick from team captain Rafael van der Vaart with significant force towards the back left direction of the goal. Stuttgart goalkeeper Sven Ulreich did an excellent job diving towards the header but it was too strongly hit. The ball hit Ulreich’s hand only to spin up and onward towards the back goal, giving the opponent a 1-0 lead and quieting the sold out crowd at Mercedes-Benz Arena.
VfB continued their attacking ways. The goal deficit did not seem to phase Stuttgart in the slightest. No nerves or drop in confidence level were apparent. Perhaps playing from behind all year finally paid off.
Fifteen minutes after Hamburger’s score, Stuttgart responded when team captain Christian Gentner took a shot directed at the goal from midfielder Daniel Schwaab and gave it a little boost with his foot. The ball streaked between the legs of goalie Rene Adler to level the match 1-1. Coach Huub Stevens sat stone faced.
Stevens did not have to wait long for his team to take the lead for good. A corner kick arrived during the 35th minute. The kick from Filip Kostic ricocheted off the head of Hamburg defender Heiko Westermann, by the goalie Adler and to VfB’s leading scorer/forward Martin Harnik. The Austrian made no mistake from point-blank range. He struck the ball slightly off the ground and clean. Adler had no chance and was let down by his defense, giving Harnik a gift.
To celebrate, Harnik, Daniel Didavi and Daniel Ginczek all danced around like monkeys, poking fun at coach Stevens after he screamed “you’re all monkeys!” during a tirade at Friday’s team practice. Stevens was intending not going to smile after scoring but couldn’t help it after the personalized celebration.
The second half was not much different for either team performance wise. Hamburg was not able to put up a fight after falling behind. Their lack of confidence was obvious and with relegation ever reality, frustration started to bubble over during the second half. They received five yellow cards after the 56th minute including the tenth yellow of the season for van der Vaart. Van der Vaart will not be able to play in Hamburg’s next match against Schalke 04 and it is almost certain we have seen him play his last game for Der Dinosaurier regardless of next week’s outcome.
For a portion of the second half Stuttgart appeared headed for 14th place, but Freiburg’s last minute goal to upset Bayern Munich combined with Hannover 96’s shocking win at Augsburg meant that Stuttgart finished Saturday in 16th place and the relegation playoff spot.
Last match of the season (maybe)
Saturday is going to be epic. Stuttgart will travel to Benteler Arena and face last place but ever dangerous Paderborn. By garnering three points this week, Stuttgart is now in control of their fate and are not reliant on outcomes of other matches.
If they win, they are safe from relegation. If they tie, they could be safe from relegation, in a relegation playoff or relegated. It is not a simple answer. If they lose, it’s very simple: the 38-year run in the top league would come to an end.
VfB Stuttgart: Ulreich – Schwaab, Baumgartl, Rüdiger, Klein – Serey Dié (90. Romeu), Gentner – Harnik (85. Werner), Didavi (78. Maxim), Kostic – Ginczek
Hamburger SV: Adler – Westermann, Djourou (90. Holtby), Rajkovic, Ostrzolek – van der Vaart, Kacar – Ilicevic, Olic, Jansen (64. Stieber) – Lasogga (58. Rudnevs)
Coming later in the week we will take a closer look at the matchup between Stuttgart and Paderborn, reasons why VfB is succeeding and some of the more logical scenarios for Saturday’s season finale, including the team I want VfB to face if forced into a playoff.
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