The Bundesliga season is a marathon slog of over nine months, 34 matches and some 3,000 minutes of football, and yet sometimes it is the final 90 that prove decisive.
Ahead of Matchday 34 of the 2017/18 campaign – which could see Hoffenheim reach the UEFA Champions League group stage for the first time, and ever-presents Hamburg relegated – bundesliga.com takes a trip down memory lane to bring you five of the most unforgettable final days in Bundesliga history.
Watch: Who needs what on the final day in 2017/18?
1) Andersson breaks Schalke hearts
An eye-watering 24 points separate the top two in the Bundesliga – Bayern and Schalke – as they head into what should be a fairly easy-going final day against VfB Stuttgart and Eintracht Frankfurt respectively. But the gap was only three back in 2000/01, when leaders Bayern travelled to Hamburg determined to keep the Royal Blues at bay. The Bavarian giants were only four days away from a Champions League final that they would win against Valencia, but first there was the small matter of securing a third straight league title.
Hamburg hadn't read the script. In the final minute of the game, Sergej Barbarez headed in a Marek Heinz cross to make it 1-0, and the biggest cheers came not at the Volksparkstadion but in Gelsenkirchen, where Schalke were 5-3 up against Unterhaching. Thanks to their superior goal difference, the Royal Blues were now virtually ahead of Bayern in the table, and just moments away from a maiden Bundesliga crown – and their first German league title since 1958.
Watch: Andersson's last-minute title winner for the Bavarians in May 2001
2) The mother of all relegation battles
Step forward Patrik Andersson. Deep in injury time, Bayern were awarded an indirect free-kick inside the Hamburg area, and the Swedish defender slammed home after a touch from Stefan Effenberg. Incredibly, that would be Andersson's only ever goal for the Bavarians, but one that earned him a place in both club and Bundesliga history. As Bayern celebrated wildly, Schalke's joy turned to despair, with the German television commentator drily summing things up: "So sind sie," he said of Bayern. "That's what they're like."
Heading into the final round of fixtures in the 1998/1999 season, no fewer than five teams were battling to avoid the drop, at a time when finishing in 16th place meant direct relegation to Bundesliga 2. Nuremberg began the day in 12th (37 points), ahead of Stuttgart (36), Freiburg (36) Hansa Rostock (35) and Frankfurt (34), but there was set to be incredible drama right until the very last minute of the season.
Frankfurt had a poorer goal difference than the rest, and looked destined to go down when Kaiserslautern cancelled out their 1-0 lead in the 68th minute. But Thomas Sobotzik immediately restored the Eagles' advantage, while two quick-fire goals for Bochum suddenly put Rostock in 16th place. As the clocks ran down, the goals kept flying in, with coaches, fans and commentators furiously pounding their calculators to work out who was going to finish where.
Frankfurt continued to increase their lead against Kaiserslautern, and at 4-1 up on 82 minutes they were briefly out of danger. Within seconds, though, Slawomir Majak scored the goal that would hand Rostock victory in Bochum and keep them safe, as Nuremberg slipped down to 16th. The 1967/68 Bundesliga champions were 2-0 down in a six-pointer against Freiburg, but an 85th-minute strike from Marek Nikl put them back ahead of Frankfurt on goal difference as the merry-go-round continued.
In the end the hero was Jan Aage Fjörtoft, who fired in a fifth for Frankfurt with a minute of normal time remaining. Nuremberg – who had started the day three points clear of the Eagles and with a five-goal advantage – saw Frank Baumann squander a superb late chance to equalise as their survival hopes went up in smoke. "This is Nuremberg," radio commentator Günther Koch famously said. "We're coming at you from the abyss." Der Club – who will return to the top flight next term – dropped from 12th to 16th and went down on goals scored, as Frankfurt and Rostock survived the most absorbing relegation scrap in Bundesliga history.
3) Hoffenheim's great escape
Hoffenheim will go into Saturday's clash with Borussia Dortmund looking to hold on to fourth place – which now means a spot in the Champions League group stage – but it was a very different story when the two sides met on the final day in 2012/13. Guaranteed to finish second behind champions Bayern Munich, Jürgen Klopp's BVB were undoubtedly thinking more about their upcoming Champions League final date with the Bavarians at Wembley – but there was no such luxury for Markus Gisdol's TSG, who had been lying 17th for over two months and absolutely needed a win to have any chance of survival.
The writing appeared to be on the wall when Robert Lewandowski gave Dortmund a sixth-minute lead – but all was not lost for Hoffenheim fans, as news filtered through that their direct relegation rivals, Fortuna Düsseldorf, had also gone 1-0 down at Hannover. TSG keeper Koen Casteels made a stunning save to deny Ilkay Gündogan before the visitors were handed a lifeline – Mats Hummels felled Kevin Volland in the area, and Sejad Salihovic slammed in the resulting penalty to make it 1-1 on 77 minutes.
At around the same time, Fortuna – two points ahead of Hoffenheim in the table – went 3-0 down at Hannover, so another goal for TSG would push them into the relegation play-off place. They got it when Roman Weidenfeller scythed down Sven Schipplock minutes later – getting a red card for his troubles – and the ice-cool Salihovic thumped a second spot-kick past stand-in keeper Kevin Großkreutz.
There was a final heart-stopping moment for the away fans when Marcel Schmelzer fired in an equaliser at the death, but it was correctly ruled out for a Lewandowski offside and a jubilant Hoffenheim went into the play-off, which they won 5-2 on aggregate at the expense of Kaiserslautern. Fortuna, who hadn't been in the bottom two all season, were relegated – but they will be back in the Bundesliga next season after clinching promotion against Dynamo Dresden.
4) 1992's three-horse race
The 1991/92 season was notable for a number of reasons. It was the first time the Bundesliga had included teams from the former East Germany, following reunification in late 1990, and the incorporation of Rostock and Dynamo Dresden meant it was the league's only ever 20-team season. It also happened to be a nightmare campaign for Bayern – who parted ways with Jupp Heynckes after just 12 league games and eventually finished down in 10th place.
Up at the top, meanwhile, there was an unprecedented three-way battle for the title between Frankfurt, Stuttgart and Dortmund. All three clubs went into the final day locked on 50 points – back when it was still two points for a win – and all three were away from home: leaders Frankfurt in Rostock, Stuttgart at Bayer Leverkusen and Dortmund down the road in Duisburg – although with 15,000 Black-and-Yellow fans making the short trip to the Wedaustadion it must have felt like being on home soil.
On paper, Frankfurt had the easiest task against relegation-bound Rostock, but their fans were set to endure perhaps the worst afternoon in their Bundesliga history. Despite dominating, the league leaders fell behind to a strike from Jens Dowe, which was quickly cancelled out by Axel Kruse. The fateful moment arrived in the 76th minute, when Ralf Weber was tripped in the Rostock area by Stefan Böger, but referee Alfons Berg refused to award a penalty. In a cruel twist, Böger went on to add Rostock's second goal from a late counter-attack, as Frankfurt's dreams of a first Bundesliga title were shattered. "The Trauma of Rostock", as the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung termed it, still haunts Eagles fans to this day.
The crown appeared to be heading to Dortmund, who had been 1-0 up against Duisburg since the ninth minute thanks to serial goal-getter Stephane Chapuisat. But there was a late twist to come in Leverkusen, where Stuttgart – drawing 1-1 and down to 10 men after Matthias Sammer's dismissal – conjured up an 86th-minute winner from an unlikely source: captain and centre-back Guido Buchwald, who had successfully kept Diego Maradona at bay when Germany won the 1990 FIFA World Cup final. In spite of spending just two weeks in top spot prior to the final day – compared to 19 for Frankfurt and 11 for Dortmund, VfB claimed their fourth German title and second of the Bundesliga era.
5) Ballack's "Neverkusen" nightmare
Michael Ballack was one of the most decorated German footballers in history by the time he hung up his boots in 2013, but the former international midfielder endured a tragic stint with Leverkusen between 1999 and 2002. Die Werkself went into the final day of the 1999/00 season with a three-point lead over Bayern, and needed just a point at mid-table Unterhaching to secure their first Bundesliga title. Disaster struck on 21 minutes, though, as Ballack turned a Danny Schwarz cross into his own net, for the first own goal of his career. Leverkusen never recovered from the setback and went on to lose 2-0 – while Bayern, who had netted three times in the first 16 minutes of their game at home to Werder Bremen, held on for a comfortable 3-1 victory to snatch the title from Bayer's grasp.
Two years later, Leverkusen kicked off Matchday 34 in second place, but only a point behind leaders Dortmund. Ballack was clearly determined to atone for his part in the Unterhaching loss, and scored twice to put his side in the driving seat at home to Hertha Berlin. For around 20 minutes in the second half, Bayer were virtual champions, with BVB drawing 1-1 at home to Bremen. Once again, though, Bundesliga glory slipped through Leverkusen's fingers as Ewerthon – barely a minute after coming off the bench – scored a winner for Dortmund on 74 minutes, securing their sixth German championship. Bayer also won 2-1, but remained a point back in second place - once again the bridesmaids instead of the bride.
If Ballack thought things couldn't get any worse, he was very wrong indeed. A week after their last league game, Leverkusen lost the DFB Cup final 4-2 to Schalke, and completed an incredible 'non-treble' four days later, when Zinedine Zidane's wonderstrike handed Real Madrid victory over Die Werkself in the Champions League final. The international press dubbed the team "Bayer Neverkusen", and their hunt for a first Bundesliga crown goes on to this day. Later that summer, Ballack joined Bayern, where glory awaited – but not before he had also lost the World Cup final with Germany against Brazil, in perhaps the unluckiest two-month spell of any footballer's career.
These are just a selection of the incredible stories that have unfolded on the Bundesliga's final day, which has also seen reigning champions Nuremberg relegated after a 3-0 loss at Cologne in 1969, and Andreas Brehme – the man who scored the winner in the 1990 World Cup final – reduced to tears as DFB Cup winners Kaiserslautern failed to avoid the drop in 1996. If history has taught us anything, it's that the season's last hurrah is not to be missed – so make sure you're logged onto bundesliga.com come Saturday afternoon!