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Bundesliga Relegation Play-Off, 1st Leg: Giants Bremen Face ‘Surprise Package’ Heidenheim

Bundesliga Relegation Play-Off, 1st Leg: Giants Bremen Face ‘Surprise Package’ Heidenheim

Bundesliga giants SV Werder Bremen meet Bundesliga 2 surprise package 1. FC Heidenheim 1846 in the first leg of the 2019/20 promotion-relegation play-off on Thursday, with a place in the German top flight on the line.

Bremen had looked on course for automatic demotion to the second tier after spending Matchdays 21-33 in 17th place, but a 6-1 win at home to 1. FC Köln on the final day – coupled with Fortuna Dusseldorf’s 3-0 defeat to 1. FC Union Berlin – granted Florian Kohfeldt’s men a shot at redemption.

Heidenheim – who have never been so close to the Bundesliga’s promised land – had been in pole position to finish third in Bundesliga 2 going into Matchday 34, and sealed the deal despite losing 3-0 away to Bundesliga 2 champions Bielefeld, as fourth-placed Hamburger SV suffered a 5-1 home defeat against SV Sandhausen.

“There’s still a huge amount of pressure,” said Bremen head coach Kohfeldt after his side’s win over Köln. “Now we’ve got two more all-or-nothing games. We can’t
afford to ease off even by a millimeter.”

As such, Milot Rashica and Yuya Osako are expected to continue in the Werder attack, the former having ended a 1,350-minute Bundesliga goal drought and the latter scoring twice and providing another assist against Koln. A fully fit Niclas Fullkrug, who was also on target on the final Matchday, should start. US international Josh Sargent and Bundesliga legend Claudio Pizarro – set to hang up his boots at the end of the season on the back of a goal-laden career spanning more than two decades – are a formidable Plan B, should Werder need it.

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And there’s every chance they will. The second-best defence in Bundesliga 2 across the regular 2019/20 campaign, Heidenheim can also count on the goals of 14-goal top scorer Tim Kleindienst, as well as veteran Marc Schnatterer – who has even hit the back of the net in an encounter against record champions FC Bayern Munich.

The Baden-Wurttemberg minnows very nearly caused an upset for the ages in the DFB Cup quarter-finals last season, taking a 2-1 lead and fighting back to make it 4-4 against Bayern before ultimately losing 5-4. They went down 4-1 to Bremen in this season’s edition, but did oust Die Grun-Weißen from the competition eight years ago. Needless to say, a maiden promotion to the Bundesliga at the expense of one of the division’s most successful clubs would be their biggest achievement
yet.

Bremen were one of the founding Bundesliga members, finishing 10th in the inaugural 1963/64 campaign, and have missed just a single top-flight season since. Their only previous relegation came in 1979/80, when they ended second-from�bottom, having won 11 and lost 20 of their 34 matches. That said, they bounced straight back and haven’t been in the second tier since 1981, when there were still regionalised leagues one step down.

Ominously for Heidenheim – hoping to become the 57th club to play in the Bundesliga – the Bundesliga 2 representative has won the two-legged play-off and gained promotion just three times in the last 10 years. Not that coach Frank Schmidt is paying much attention to the pre-match ‘underdogs’ tag.
“We’re really excited,” explained Schmidt – Heidenheim coach since 2007.

“When you finish third after 34 Matchdays, you’ve earned that shot at promotion.

“We’ll give it everything. It’s milkmen who feel pressure – this is football.”

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