From its first year right up to its 50th, the Bundesliga has provided legendary games, heart-wrenching stories and no shortage of drama and emotion. In the second instalment of our three-part series focusing on the season’s final day, bundesliga.com brings you the most nail-biting episodes involving teams fighting against the spectre of relegation:
In only the league’s sixth season, a curious record was set that still stands to this day. 1. FC Nuremberg, one of Germany’s true Traditionsvereine, lifted the Bundesliga title in 1968, but were relegated the following season. They were beaten 3-0 by 1. FC Köln on Matchday 34 in 1969, allowing Borussia Dortmund, 3-0 winners at home to Kickers Offenbach, another season in the top tier.
1973’s final day of action centred on a certain Lower Saxon rivalry between Hannover 96 and Eintracht Braunschweig, who were separated by just one point before play commenced. Hannover, and goalkeeper Reinhardt Dittel (pictured), had the necessary luck on their side as they eased to a 4-0 win away at Wuppertaler SV to overtake Braunschweig in the table. The 1967 champions suffered a 2-1 defeat against Fortuna Düsseldorf and had to suffer the ignominy of watching their rivals celebrate survival while they faced up to life in the second tier.
Both Wuppertaler SV and Fortuna Köln concluded the final round of games on 25 points in the 1973 season. Wuppertal managed a 2-2 draw away at VfB Stuttgart - thanks in part to this goal scored by Hermann Ohlicher (c.) - but Köln crashed to a 4-0 defeat against Kickers Offenbach. Goal difference was thus required to decide who would go down, meaning Wuppertal could breathe easy. Theirs was -23, but even that was ten goals better than Köln’s.
SC Freiburg had momentum on their side going into the final day’s play in 1993/94. They had beaten VfB Stuttgart 4-0 and VfB Leipzig 1-0, but still needed a victory away at MSV Duisburg on Matchday 34 to be sure of their top-flight status. They needn’t have worried, though, as Rodolfo Esteban Cardoso (l.) helped them to a 2-0 victory over the Zebras, allowing them to leapfrog 1. FC Nuremberg, who lost 4-1 at Borussia Dortmund, into 15th place on account of their superior goal difference.
Kaiserslautern's Fritz-Walter-Stadion hosted a relegation decider on the final day of the 1995/96 season, with both the home team and visitors Leverkusen facing the drop. Lautern took the lead only for Leverkusen to unexpectedly equalise eight minutes from time. The game finished 1-1 and the Red Devils, one of the Bundesliga’s founding clubs, were relegated after 32 years in the top-flight. The image of Lautern’s Andreas Brehme (r.) fighting back the tears while being consoled by fellow 1990 FIFA World Cup winner Rudi Völler (l.) of Leverkusen, has become iconic.
Two seasons after Brehme’s tearful farewell, there was yet more pain for another of Germany’s World Cup winners from 1990: Thomas Häßler of Karlsruher SC. The midfielder scored twice away at FC Hansa Rostock but couldn’t prevent a 4-2 defeat. That left the door open for Stefan Effenberg’s Borussia Mönchengladbach side to steal the initiative. The Germany international also hit a brace in a 2-0 win away at VfL Wolfsburg, helping the Foals to safety and condemning KSC to the drop.
Quite possibly the most dramatic relegation climax of all came on the final day in 1998/99. Eintracht Frankfurt were three points behind 12th-placed 1. FC Nuremberg ahead of their game against 1. FC Kaiserslautern and at the break the score was 0-0. Nuremberg, meanwhile, were trailing 2-0 against SC Freiburg. The Eagles not only needed to win but also to do so by four clear goals. It seemed impossible. Astonishingly, though, five goals in the second half, the last coming from Jan-Aage Fjörtoft (r.), made sure of Eintracht’s escape. Nuremberg would have survived with a point but went down 2-1. Both finished with a goal difference of -10, but Frankfurt stayed up on goals scored (54 to Nuremberg’s 50).
In 2006, 15th-placed VfL Wolfsburg were just a point ahead of 1. FC Kaiserslautern in 16th. The Red Devils led 1-0 at the break through Halil Altintop, but Wolfsburg coach Klaus Augenthaler changed the game by introducing Cedric Makiadi for the second period in place of Hans Sarpei. The Congolese international (l.) headed in an equaliser and then provided an assist for Diego Klimowicz to make it 2-1. Marcel Ziemers pulled the scores level again, but a draw was not enough for Lautern, who were relegated for a second time.
Otto Rehhagel was recruited by Hertha Berlin to save them from relegation in the final few months of the 2011/12 campaign. The veteran coach did manage to help them reach the relegation play-off place after a 3-1 win over 1899 Hoffenheim, but the capital club still had to negotiate the two-legged play-off against Fortuna Düsseldorf, who finished third in Bundesliga 2. It proved to be one challenge too far for Rehhagel, whose side dropped into the second tier after losing 4-3 on aggregate.
This season, 1899 Hoffenheim were in 17th place going into the final day’s play, where they had to beat Borussia Dortmund away to take the play-off spot. FC Augsburg were 3-1 winners over Greuther Fürth, meaning the only team left for Hoffenheim to catch was Fortuna Düsseldorf. Things looked bleak when Robert Lewandowski scored for BVB, but Sejad Salihovic netted two penalties, which relegated Düsseldorf and sent Markus Gisdol's team into the play-off, which they won ten days later with a 5-2 aggregate win over 1. FC Kaiserslautern.