Eintracht Braunschweig flew into Sunday’s penultimate round on an enormous high. Having seen to Union Berlin’s promotion hopes in their big encounter the previous Monday, the Lions had grabbed 2nd place back from Hannover and were within 3 points of leaders Stuttgart. With their two biggest rivals scrapping amongst themselves, and only 2nd bottom Arminia Bielefeld in their way, Lieberknecht’s boys looked perfectly positioned to take full advantage and head into the final round with a very strong chance of automatic promotion.
How different the reality was.
For while there has been some fairly absurd upsets during this years 2.Bundesliga, nothing quite prepared anyone for what took place at the SchücoArena on Sunday. Even when the home side took an early lead with a fortuitous own goal from Jan Hochscheidt, Braunschweig must still have been confident they had the quality to make it their day. Even when they went in at half time 2-0 down, after acting Arminia captain Börner took advantage of some particularly sloth-like defending to thrash home his 4th of the season, many would still have backed the visitors to turn it around.
Perhaps Eintracht, after comfortably seeing off promotion rival Union, took relegation threatened Arminia too lightly. Perhaps they underestimated the damage that the likes of Reinhold Yabo, himself no stranger to a promotion battle in this division, backed by an energetic supporting cast, could do to them. Certainly they would not have allowed for the boost that the terrifying Carsten Rump, assistant in name but certainly just as influential as during his two spells as caretaker this season, could give this squad of stuttering Arminia players with a half-time team talk for the ages. (Incidentally, the video of this team talk is widely available and worth a search and a couple of minutes of absolutely anyone’s time.)
No matter the reason for the unbelievable scenes that followed, by the time 30 minutes of the 2nd half had elapsed, Eintracht’s chances, not only of getting a result on the day, but also of achieving automatic promotion, had been utterly and truly devastated by a further 4 goals from a relentless Bielefeld. Even the home fans, fervent as ever, could scarcely believe their eyes as a Yabo hattrick and a fine strike from young Keanu Staude left the final score at an astonishing 6-0.
Of course, the onus was on Eintracht to throw bodies forward in the 2nd half with the two goal deficit to overcome. Nevertheless, it was hard not to draw parallels with the Mineirazo, Brazil’s 7-1 humiliation at the hands of Germany in 2014, as Arminia looked like scoring with nearly every attack, taking advantage of enormous holes in the defence where yellow shirts should have been found. Take nothing away from the hosts though, who were ruthless and hungry in their pursuit of every ball. It was no surprise that 8 of them made Kicker’s team of the week
The flabbergasting win has dragged Jeff Saibene’s side from 2nd bottom out of the relegation zone, and with the unexpected boost to their goal difference, now stand a much greater chance of avoiding the drop with only a relaxed Dresden still to play.
The humiliated Braunschweig, on the other hand, who had led Hannover on goal difference, now trail both them and Stuttgart by 3 points, and at least 6 goals following their mauling. Automatic promotion looks out of their reach, and they should look now at their final round match against Karlsruher merely as a chance to gain back some confidence, ahead of a now inevitable looking playoff.
…Then again, stranger things have happened. – TNJ
Hannover overcome Stuttgart to draw level at the top
Meanwhile in Lower Saxony, Hannover started the day at a significant disadvantage – in 3rd place and about to face league leaders Stuttgart. The signs were not looking good for their chances of automatic promotion but Sunday could hardly have gone better for them. The fans in the crowd checking their phones for updates on how their rivals Eintracht Braunschweig were getting on at Arminia Bielefeld, which were met with loud cheers as the stadium announcer confirmed the goals on six (!) occasions.
Things were also going swimmingly on the pitch at the HDI Arena. Hannover bossed the game from the start and put in one of their most comprehensive performances of the season. Stuttgart, on the other hand, were surprisingly timid and struggled to make their mark on the game, especially in the first half. They were looking to the talents of Alexandru Maxim for creativity but he had an off-game – summed up by his inability to find top-scorer Simon Terodde in space in VfB’s only significant attack of the opening 45 minutes.
Maxim lost the midfield battle to Waldemar Anton, who was absolutely immense in the holding role, and looks so much more assured than at centre-back, where he spent most of the season playing. He was even involved in the goal, as he won the ball back and kept it tidy by playing it to Felix Klaus, who eventually put the ball in the back of the net with a wonderful finish. Even with multiple replays it’s still unclear quite how he managed to find the far post under so much pressure from Timo Baumgartl.
Stuttgart improved in the second half but even then they struggled in open play and only really came close to scoring through set-pieces. Terodde, Marcin Kaminski and substitute striker Daniel Ginczek all missed good chances to level the scores. Similarly, Hannover’s top-scorer Martin Harnik struggled throughout and made a glaring miss late on with the chance to seal the victory.
Hannover held on for a 1-0 victory though and a great deal of credit must go to partnership of coach André Breitenreiter and his good friend who appointed him in March – general manager Horst Heldt. While firing popular figure Daniel Stendel caused a bit of a stir back then, the club were always very clear in their intentions to bounce straight back up to the Bundesliga and the former coach was seen as putting that mission in jeopardy. It’s hard to argue now that they made the wrong decision.
Since then Breitenreiter’s side are unbeaten in eight games – winning six of them – and remarkably they have kept clean sheets in seven of those. He’s transformed a leaky defence from being the team’s biggest weakness to its greatest strength. Despite being pretty average this season, goalie Philipp Tschauner is now set to win the coveted ‘white vest’ award for keeping more clean sheets than any other keeper this season.
Moving Anton from defence to midfield is a move that was long overdue but something that Stendel was reluctant to try, but it’s paying dividends now – so much so that captain Manuel Schmiedebach was not missed in that role against Stuttgart. In the backline, the no-nonsense Florian Hübner has formed a strong partnership with Salif Sané, that is hard to bully or break down. Even the full-backs Oliver Sorg and Miiko Albornoz – both experienced players with international caps – seem to have their confidence back after a horrendously bad first half of the season.
Hannover went from outsiders for automatic promotion to near-certainties – not only from the start of Breitenreiter’s reign to now, but even from the start of Sunday to the end. Braunschweig losing was not the clincher but it was the manner in which they lost – conceding six – that could seal a top-two position for die Röten. Hannover are now three points ahead of their rivals with a vastly superior goal difference, so it would require them to lose to Sandhausen in the final game with Eintracht winning and a big swing in goal difference. It’s not impossible, but improbable, and Braunschweig should prepare for a promotion play-off game against either Hamburg or Wolfsburg.
It therefore looks like Stuttgart and Hannover will go back up to the top-flight at the first time of asking. While they were favourites to do so at the start of the season, with their big budgets and Bundesliga experience, it rarely works out that the relegated sides go straight back up. This is the first time in twelve seasons and can you hardly say they’ve had it their own way. Braunschweig and Union Berlin are set to create records for the highest points total for their respective positions in the league and the conclusion has gone down to the final game of the season.
Barring a miracle, the top-four looks set to remain as it is now after the 34th round, although it’s still unclear which one of Stuttgart or Hannover will seal the title. The four-horse race to get to this stage has been a joy to watch though, with many plot twists along the way. Braunschweig will be gutted that they blew their chance for automatic promotion but their season is not over yet. Good luck to them in the playoffs! – AW
1860 back in the doldrums
- With Round 32’s 1-2 victory away at Dynamo Dresden, it looked like 1860 München had finally turned the corner. The team had gone through a phase of being the better team in a game but somehow managing to lose 1-0 – against Kaiserslautern and Braunschweig. Coach Vitor Pereira even described the months of April and May as the best football they’ve played since he joined in January and with the result against Dresden it seemed finally like everything had clicked into place. How wrong they were. This is 1860 we’re talking about so naturally they always do things the hard way. Against Bochum on Sunday in front of 40,000 of their own fans they needed a win to take a big advantage into the final round of the season. Instead they lost 1-2 and with other results not going their way they now find themselves in the relegation play-off spot again. Die Löwen now need to get a result away at Heidenheim to give themselves a chance of survival. Otherwise they could face Jahn Regensburg or Magdeburg in the relegation playoff tie. 1860 would be strong favourites with a strong of their quality but you never know when it comes to the playoffs. – AW
Team of the Week
Tschauner (Hannover); Dick (Arminia), Börner (Arminia), Sobiech (St. Pauli), Hartherz (Arminia); Anton (Hannover), Schütz (Arminia), Gogia (Dresden), Yabo (Arminia), Staude (Arminia); Bebou (Fortuna)
Goal of the Week
Felix Klaus, Hannover (vs. Stuttgart)