The competitive nature of Germany’s top flight regularly provides a host of talking points, plenty of upsets and above all thrilling season finales. In the first instalment of a three-part series, we take a look at the most exciting battles for those coveted UEFA Champions League berths.
Level on 50 points coming into Matchday 38, Eintracht Frankfurt, VfB Stuttgart and Borussia Dortmund occupied the top three spots in the Bundesliga. When Guido Buchwald rose highest in the 86th minute to clinch a last-gasp 2-1 win against Bayer 04 Leverkusen, VfB leapfrogged the competition to clinch the title and become the first German side to qualify for the newly-constituted UEFA Champions League. BVB also collected three points, but had to settle for second place on goal difference, while Eintracht Frankfurt blew their chance and slipped down into third on the back of a 2-1 loss to Hertha BSC Berlin.
Three years later, Borussia Dortmund finally got their hands on the coveted Meisterschale. Goals from Andreas Möller and Lars Ricken earned the Yellow-Blacks the 2-0 win against Hamburger SV which saw them move into top spot on the final day of the 1994/95 campaign at SV Werder Bremen’s expense. Werder had been in pole position since Matchday 29, but a 3-1 loss to FC Bayern Munich on Matchday 34 cost them dearly, with the record champions thus playing a key role in BVB securing their first Bundesliga title.
In the final round of games in 1998/99, Borussia Dortmund once again left it late to qualify for Europe’s premier club competition as they sensationally leapt from sixth place into fourth when Swiss striker Stephane Chapuisat bagged a brace in the 2-0 win against Borussia Mönchengladbach. With 1. FC Kaiserslautern losing 5-1 against Eintracht Frankfurt and VfL Wolfsburg suffering a 6-1 defeat at MSV Duisburg, both let the chance to compete at Europe’s top table slip through their fingers, much to Dortmund’s delight.
On 22 May 2004 Bayer 04 Leverkusen hosted VfB Stuttgart with both sides knowing that the winner of this, the final game of the season, would qualify for the Champions League. Sitting in third, however, Stuttgart needed only a draw. The match was still scoreless at half-time, but in the 63rd minute Dimitar Berbatov’s opening goal for the Werkself changed the complexion of the contest. When Bernd Schneider added a second five minutes from time with Stuttgart chasing the game, it was clear who would be playing against the elite of European football the following season.
Just as in the previous season, Stuttgart once again fell short of a Champions League place on the final day of the campaign. The Swabians suffered a 3-1 loss on Matchday 34 at home to FC Bayern Munich, who had already wrapped up the Bundesliga title. With Hertha BSC also dropping points in a 0-0 draw with Hannover 96, it was Werder Bremen who leapt into third place at the death, courtesy of a 2-1 win over 1. FC Kaiserslautern.
The season just ended had a final-day thriller of its own, as fourth-place FC Schalke 04 travelled to SC Freiburg with just a point separating the sides. In terms of external pressure, it was a lopsided contest; the Royal Blues were chasing their minimum target of Champions League football, while Freiburg were hoping to crown a sensational season with another against-the-odds bonus. In the end, the visitors prevailed 2-1 against their underdog hosts. Julian Draxler’s opener was cancelled out by Jonathan Schmid, but an own-goal from Freiburg captain Julian Schuster in the 57th minute handed Schalke the vital victory.