Frankfurt - High-flying Eintracht Frankfurt secured their first win of the New Year, coming out on top of a hard-fought encounter with 1899 Hoffenheim, as the respective side's Japanese stars took centre-stage.
Turning the screw
With many in Japan watching the live broadcast with interest, Takashi Inui's ingenuity saw the hosts open the scoring through Martin Lanig. Kevin Volland may have leveled the scores after the restart, but Stefan Aigner's immediate response - the 18th goal Hoffenheim have conceded from set-pieces - proved to be the winner as Frankfurt grabbed their tenth victory of the season.
Both head coaches made changes to their starting line-ups, as Hoffenheim's new signing Eugen Polanski was handed a debut, but neither side was able to get to grips with proceedings during the opening exchanges. The visitors looked vulnerable from every Frankfurt dead ball, but almost took the lead when Takashi Usami danced his way into the box, flicking the ball into the path of Volland, who failed to place his effort either side of Kevin Trapp.
The hosts responded to the early scare as Karim Matmour headed a deflected cross onto the bar, before Lanig forced Tim Wiese to produce goal-line heroics to keep the sides deadlocked. With the game opening up, Frankfurt began dictating the tempo, pinning Hoffenheim inside their own half, whilst carving out their chances. Unfortunately for the home fans though, neither Stefan Aigner nor Alexander Meier managed to find the net from close range.
Unlocked by Lanig
It seemed only a matter of time before Eintracht's pressure would have the desired effect and with Hoffenheim affording them more space, they finally reaped their rewards in the 35th minute. Inui squeezed out a pass on the edge of the box to release Lanig, who poked home on the stretch despite Andreas Beck's best efforts to clear off the line, handing the hosts a narrow lead in at the break.
1899 had struggled to impose themselves in the opening 45 minutes, but with Kurz's team-talk ringing in their ears, immediately went in search of an equaliser after the restart. Second-half substitute Roberto Firmino wasted a gilt-edged opportunity by firing straight at Kevin Trapp from Volland's pull back, before Usami played in Joselu, whose long-range effort did nothing more than sting the palms of the Frankfurt keeper.
Eagles soar despite scare
The tides had turned with Hoffenheim enjoying a greater share of possession, while Frankfurt's occasional carelessness on the ball prevented them from posing the desired threat on the counter. The visitors' performance was much improved and, having probed Frankfurt's backline on a more regular basis, drew level just past the hour mark when Volland snuck in front of his marker to clip Beck’s drilled cross past Trapp with a cheeky back heel.
Their revival was short-lived though, as Joselu's flick-on from Bastian Okzipcka's corner took the ball over the despairing Wiese, allowing Aigner to tap home at the far post. The setback rocked Hoffenheim, who couldn't muster up another comeback, as Frankfurt took the sting out of the encounter in the closing stages and tightened their grip on fourth place in the Bundesliga.
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