In the red corner, weighing in with 30 points from 33 games, the winners of the inaugural Bundesliga – the extremely unreliable FC Cologne.
In the blue corner, weighing in with 28 points from 33 games, the club from the capital – the equally unreliable Hertha Berlin.
Now all boxing analogies and hyperbole aside, Saturday held a lot of importance for these two clubs. Of course, such is the way the Bundesliga works, the most either could achieve on Saturday was the relative safety of the awkward Relegation Play-Off.
It was the importance of the occasion which helped to make Saturday afternoon’s events all the more dramatic. Both Cologne and Hertha had the advantage of playing at home. However, the Billy Goats faced Bayern Munich, a side looking to keep themselves in good shape ahead of the DFB-Pokal Final and the Champions League Final.
Hoffenheim weren’t going to be an easy proposition for Hertha Berlin but they certainly weren’t as tough opposition as Bayern were to Cologne. The final results showed this.
Understandably, the relegation threatened duo started tentatively on Saturday but it was Hertha who struck first as Anis Ben-Hatira’s free-kick from wide on the right went all the way in to the delight of the Olympiastadion. Otto Rehhagel’s side had the advantage. The dour face of General Manager Michael Preetz, even when they’d scored, illustrated Hertha were by no means secure.
The mood was further lifted in Berlin with news Thomas Müller had opened the scoring at the RheinEnergieStadion. Such was their inferior goal difference to Hertha, Cologne now had to come from behind and beat Bayern. The problem for Frank Schaefer’s team was that not once during the campaign had their opponents gone in front in the Bundesliga and lost.
The last time it happened was actually against Cologne last season but there was to be no repeat on Saturday. Instead, things kept on improving for Hertha Berlin. Ryan Babel was harshly sent off for Hoffenheim just before half time. It meant Hertha continued to gather momentum which they took into the second period.
Meanwhile at the RheinEnergieStadion, Cologne made an impressive start after half time. Fortune didn’t favour their brave approach though on this occasion. Playing in such an open manner against Bayern is always risky and it didn’t pay off as Geromel diverted Franck Ribery’s cross into his own goal. This was quickly followed by a third by Arjen Robben. Milivoje Novakovic grabbed a consolation before Thomas Müller completed the scoring making it 4-1 to the Bundesliga runners up.
The news from Berlin wasn’t positive for Cologne either with Ben-Hatira scoring his second and ending their chances of automatic relegation, or so it seemed. Someone forgot to inform Hoffenheim’s Marvin Commper who ensured a bizarre finale to the season by halving Hertha’s lead with minutes left.
The scoreline now 2-1 and another goal for Markus Babbel’s side would condemn Hertha. In the final minutes, Thomas Kraft was forced into a save giving Hoffenheim a late corner. Up came goalkeeper Tom Starke but Hertha cleared and with no one guarding the goal at the opposite end, Raffael was able to run the ball in, cue roars of relief around the Olympiastadion.
Simultaneously in Cologne, there were some rather unsavoury scenes as some discontented supporters lit flares behind Manuel Neuer’s goal. Referee Florian Meyer took the sensible step to blow for full time as a plume of black smoke engulfed one end of the stadium. Players and officials rushed down the tunnel but one man trudged off at a slower pace than the others.
That was Lukas Podolski playing his final game for Cologne prior to his move to Arsenal. Seeing “Prinz Poldi” leaving the pitch with clouds of black smoke behind him was poignant. Indeed, he departs with his hometown club in disarray. That said Cologne’s exit from the Bundesliga epitomised the ridiculous nature of their season. Predicting whether they’ll make an immediate return is difficult at this time.
As for Hertha Berlin, they’ll have been delighted their former coach Markus Babbel didn’t end up coming back to haunt them. That relative honour might fall to Fortuna Dusseldorf, their opponents in the Relegation Play Off. Hertha fans know their team haven’t played that well under Otto Rehhagel but with the organiser supreme, they managed to win the fight for survival – for now.
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Matchday 34 Results:
Augsburg 1-0 Hamburg
Borussia Dortmund 4-0 Freiburg
Cologne 1-4 Bayern Munich
Hannover 2-1 Kaiserslautern
Hertha Berlin 3-1 Hoffenheim
Mainz 0-3 Gladbach
Nuremberg 1-4 Bayer Leverkusen
Stuttgart 3-2 Wolfsburg
Werder Bremen 2-3 Schalke
The Final Table
|2||FC Bayern Munich||34||23||4||7||77:22||+55||73||CL*|
|3||FC Schalke 04||34||20||4||10||74:44||+30||64||CL*|
|4||Borussia Mönchengladbach||34||17||9||8||49:24||+25||60||CL* Qual.|
|5||Bayer 04 Leverkusen||34||15||9||10||52:44||+8||54||EL*|
|6||VfB Stuttgart||34||15||8||11||63:46||+17||53||EL* Qual.|
|7||Hannover 96||34||12||12||10||41:45||-4||48||EL* Qual.|
|9||SV Werder Bremen||34||11||9||14||49:58||-9||42|
|10||1. FC Nuremberg||34||12||6||16||38:49||-11||42|
|13||1. FSV Mainz 05||34||9||12||13||47:51||-4||39|
|16||Hertha BSC Berlin||34||7||10||17||38:64||-26||31||Play-offs|
|17||1. FC Köln||34||8||6||20||39:75||-36||30||Relegation|
|18||1. FC Kaiserslautern||34||4||11||19||24:54||-30||23||Relegation|
Table thanks to Bundesliga Official Website