Dortmund - 1899 Hoffenheim captain Andreas Beck has experienced his fair share of drama in five seasons with the club, but it’s safe to say that he may never again endure a game quite as dramatic as Saturday's final-day 2-1 win at Borussia Dortmund - a result which gave the visitors one last crack at Bundesliga survival.
All manner of permutations
“I can’t describe how it feels,” said the 26-year-old, and who could blame him? Hoffenheim were staring relegation in the face after Robert Lewandowski had put Dortmund ahead, but two second-half penalties converted by Sejad Salihovic turned the game on its head, pushing the Sinsheim outfit above Fortuna Düsseldorf and into the relegation play-off place.
On reflection, it almost beggars belief that Hoffenheim are still in with a shout of staying in the top flight. Augsburg were winning at home to Greuther Fürth, which meant they were essentially safe, but with Düsseldorf losing in Hanover, there remained a glimmer of hope for Markus Gisdol's men.
Dortmund then proceeded to waste chance after chance to kill the game off, and Hoffenheim’s resolve to mount one last bid for the impossible grew. Salihovic levelled things up at 1-1 from the spot, before 1899 were sensationally awarded another penalty for Roman Weidenfeller’s foul on Sven Schipplock. Weidenfeller was red carded, and with Dortmund already having made three substitutions, winger Kevin Großkreutz went in goal. Alas, he was powerless to stop another perfect Salihovic spot-kick.
All of a sudden, Hoffenheim had moved into 16th place ahead of Fortuna. Only a win would suffice for the relegation play-off place, and it was almost taken away from them in injury time when Marcel Schmelzer’s shot crept into the corner. To the immeasurable relief of Beck and his team, however, it was ruled out for offside against Lewandowski, and Hoffenheim were left to fight another game.
The victorious skipper could scarcely believe his eyes. “We stuck to our game-plan well, made the changes and we knew our chances would come”, he said. “Then they score an equaliser in the last minute, but the referee chalks it off after talking to the linesman. It was like an ending to a thriller.” Team-mate Sebastian Rudy was afflicted with a similar sensation of disbelief: “We were buzzing at going 2-1 up and then horrified at their late equaliser. I had goose bumps all over.“
All or nothing
The long and the short of it is that Hoffenheim, after being in the bottom two since 24 February, now have a two-legged play-off against Bundesliga 2 outfit 1. FC Kaiserslautern to prolong their five-year stay in the Bundesliga.
“We have to take this euphoria with us and make sure we prepare properly for the Kaiserslautern game,” said head coach Markus Gisdol once he had gathered his composure following his manic cheering at the final whistle. After what unfolded at the Signal-Iduna-Park on Saturday, the entire club will believe that absolutely anything is possible.