Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Cup final and play-offs
The final week of the professional domestic season, or at least the week following the most recent of these reports, began... no, not with the cup final but with the relegation/promotion play-offs in the two top-flights.
On Thursday, Hertha Berlin lost 2-1 at home against second-division Fortuna Dusseldorf in the first leg of the play-offs for the final place in the top division. On Friday, Karlsruhe, the 16th-placed team in Bundesliga II, battled to a 1-1 draw away against the third-placed side from the third division, Jahn Regensburg.
Four days later, the lower-division team earned a 2-2 draw in Karlsruhe that saw them promoted on away goals. It was the second time that tradition-laden Karlsruhe, the club that spawned players such as Oliver Kahn and Mehmet Scholl, have dropped to the third division, whereupon many hundred fans rioted. It wasn't until the early hours of the morning that the police had the situation under control again.
Jahn Regensburg (the strange name refers to Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, who popularised gymnastics in Germany) will probably have to go into the Bundesliga II season without the man who's taken them there. Coach Markus Weinzierl has been openly courted by Augsburg and it's unlikely he won't jump at the chance to coach in the top-flight.
Sandwiched between these two games was the most amazing cup final in recent memory, won by Bundesliga champions Dortmund against Bayern. It was the first time in club history that Dortmund managed to win the league and cup double, though it wasn't the outcome as such that was amazing but the manner in which it happened.
The Munich giants, who had conceded only 22 goals over the course of the league campaign, lost by the stunning score of 5-2. It was only the third time in 18 attempts that Bayern lost a domestic cup final; it was the first time ever, with the exception of the German version of the Community Shield, that Bayern conceded more than two goals in a proper final of any kind; and it's the first time in the modern era that Bayern have lost five competitive games in a row against the same opponent. (And perhaps the first time ever. In 1950 and 1951, Bayern lost four derbies on the trot against 1860 Munich but managed to draw the fifth.)
Dortmund's Polish striker Robert Lewandowski scored the first hat-trick in a cup final since 1986, when Bayern's Roland Wohlfarth netted three goals against Stuttgart. Equally impressive, though, was Shinji Kagawa, who opened the scoring and set up Lewandowski's first goal. It's an open secret that Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, watching the game from the stands, is interested in the Japanese midfielder. Two days after the match, Kagawa informed the club he would not extend his Dortmund contract, which runs until 2013. That probably means Borussia will sell him this summer, when they can still pocket a hefty profit, considering Kagawa cost them only €350,000 (£280,000) two years ago.
But the most amazing aspect of the game was not that it produced such historic numbers and stunning figures. It was that Dortmund, who've never been a model of efficiency and normally waste chances by the truckload, capitalised on every mistake Bayern made with the sort of clinical precision teams normally fear about Bayern. And, of course, that Bayern made so many mistakes in the first place, most of which could only be explained by nerves or a lack of concentration.
If it was the former, it doesn't bode well for the Champions League final on Saturday. Bayern are now under enormous pressure, as most people expect them to defeat Chelsea and win the trophy, if only because of the home field advantage. At the same time, the potential for disaster is huge, considering Bayern could now repeat Bayer Leverkusen's tragic 2001-02 season, when the team came second in every competition.
Then again, "disaster" and "tragic" are relative terms, of course. In Berlin, for example, they would gladly swap places with Bayern. On Tuesday night, Hertha completed a nightmarish second half of the season by only drawing the second leg of the play-offs in Dusseldorf 2-2 and getting relegated to Bundesliga II.
In a way, the game was befitting of Hertha's season, because it was first thrilling and then descended into chaos. In the second half, Hertha were reduced to ten men and then fell behind, whereupon Berlin fans, but also some Fortuna supporters, lost their composure and interrupted the match with fireworks and smoke bombs. This necessitated seven minutes of stoppage time, during which hundreds of Dusseldorf supporters positioned themselves right next to the touchlines, anticipating the promotion celebrations.
But deep into this long injury time, with the score now 2-2 and Hertha needing only one more goal, those fans suddenly invaded the pitch. Some were even cutting lumps of soil out of the field of play, even though there were almost two minutes still left on the clock. It was only after a lengthy interruption and a clearing of the pitch of play that the remainder of the game could be played.
Fortuna's promotion is particularly bitter news for proud and tradition-laden Cologne. The club that considers itself the biggest in the Rhineland is now the only team from that region in Bundesliga II, while almost all local rivals are in the top flight. (Meaning Leverkusen, Gladbach and Dusseldorf. Aachen, meanwhile, have been relegated to the third division.) At least they have a new coach in Cologne, as Holger Stanislawski is going to take over the team.
So, have we covered everything that needs to be said about the 2011-12 Bundesliga season? Not quite, as there is one more thing worthy of note.
Unless the French Ligue 1 produces 167 goals on its final matchday, the Bundesliga is once more the highest-scoring of the major European leagues - for the 22nd year in row! But more about that at some other time, in some other place.