Bremen face final chance to avoid automatic relegation

Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski in action against Werder Bremen club in Germany. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 27 June 2020

Bremen face final chance to avoid automatic relegation

BERLIN: Werder Bremen have one final chance to avoid automatic relegation this Saturday on the last weekend of the Bundesliga season while fellow fallen giants Hamburg will also make a last bid to earn a chance to win promotion back to Germany’s top-flight.

The best either team can hope for is a spot in the playoff for the final Bundesliga slot next season. Both must overtake the team above them to do it.

“We owe it to everyone in the club to fight until the very last moment, as long as it is still mathematically possible,” said Bremen head coach Florian Kohfeldt.

To have any chance of staying up, second-from-bottom Bremen must win at home against Cologne and hope Union Berlin beat Fortuna Duesseldorf in the capital.

If Duesseldorf draw, Bremen, who are winless in their last 14 home league games, will need to win by 4 goals against Cologne to climb to 16th and give themselves the hope of a two-legged relegation/promotion playoff against the side who finish third in the second division. In a blow to Bremen, Milot Rashica, the club’s top scorer with 7 goals this season, is doubtful with an ankle injury.

Duesseldorf and Bremen are fighting to avoid joining bottom side Paderborn, who are already relegated.

No other club — not even Bayern Munich, who have already won the title before Saturday’s game at Wolfsburg — has spent longer in the Bundesliga than Bremen.

If they are to survive, the club from northern Germany must stop history repeating itself.

By coincidence, it was a 5-0 home defeat to Saturday’s opponents Cologne in May 1980 which sealed their only previous relegation.

Until the season before last, Bremen’s arch-rival Hamburg was the longest-serving Bundesliga club. If Hamburg are to return, they need to win on Sunday and hope third-placed Heidenheim do not win.

Hamburg, relegated in 2018 for the first time in their history, blew their chances of automatic promotion last Sunday when they leaked two late goals in a 2-1 loss at Heidenheim, who leapfrogged into third place. Fourth-placed Hamburg must beat mid-table Sandhausen and hope Heidenheim fail to win at Bielefeld, who are already promoted as champions.

Should Hamburg come third in the second tier and Bremen manage 16th in the Bundesliga, there would be a heated northern German derby in the two-legged promotion/relegation playoff.

“I would rather see Hamburg play Duesseldorf in the playoffs — I wouldn’t want to face Bremen,” former Hamburg legend Uwe Seeler told Sport Bild. Bremen have won the ‘Nordderby’ 47 times to their rivals’ 38 victories with 36 draws.

After 10 years at Bayer Leverkusen, home-grown in-demand forward Kai Havertz, 21, could play his last game for the club at home to Mainz on Saturday.

Real Madrid, Chelsea, Manchester United and Bayern Munich are all reportedly interested in the attacking midfielder.


Formula One in brave new world as Verstappen seeks repeat Austria triumph

Updated 9 min 29 sec ago

Formula One in brave new world as Verstappen seeks repeat Austria triumph

  • Teams are cut to a maximum of 80 staff, all in protective equipment

SPIELBERG, South Africa: Max Verstappen will seek a hat trick of home wins for Red Bull and an early lead in the drivers championship at this weekend’s delayed and somewhat surreal season-opening Austrian Grand Prix.

For everyone involved, the race will be an unprecedented experience — the calendar is unknown beyond the first eight races in Europe in 10 weeks, all to be run behind closed doors and severe limitations introduced with a new paddock protocol forbidding meetings.

As racing returns, the COVID-19 virus remains in circulation, which requires all participants to be tested before travel to Austria on private chartered jets, ongoing tests, the separation of teams and car crews into “bubbles” and controlled hotels.

Teams are cut to a maximum of 80 staff, all in protective equipment, there will be no sponsors, no guests and only a limited number of accredited broadcast and written news media.

Journalists, limited to a dozen instead of 300 or more, have to pass a test within 72 hours in advance of arrival and will not be allowed to leave the media center.

All interviews and news conferences will take place by video.

The teams will be kept isolated, based in tents with awnings instead of their usual grand motorhomes — and there is expected to be a synchronized taking the knee by the drivers on the grid, to support Black Lives Matter, ahead of Sunday’s race.

Afterwards, there will be no podium ceremony.

When the race begins, it will end the longest gap between races in the sport since 1962, but with two successive races in Austria and then one in Hungary, the pressure will be immediate and intense.

Red Bull team boss Christian Horner said: “There’s been a long drought. We all do this because we love it. We’ve missed it, so we can’t wait to start.”

“It’s going to be exciting and intense. The races come thick and fast.”

Dutch driver Verstappen, who bullied his way past Ferrari rival Charles Leclerc to triumph in front of a mass of his “orange army” of fans last year, says he is unfazed by high expectations or the absence of spectators at the Red Bull Ring, a remote and compact circuit in the Styrian Alps.

“I am not thinking about a hat trick,” he said.

“The most important thing for me is to have a competitive car and to perform at my best.

“I never consider myself as a favorite because, actually, when you look at the track, it’s not even our best one, but last year it was very warm and we were good at keeping the engine cool.

“So I don’t expect an easy win. I think Mercedes will be very strong again and they are the ones to beat.”

Verstappen, who has kept a low profile during the lockdown, delivered three wins and eight podiums last year as Lewis Hamilton claimed his sixth title with Mercedes, who this year seek an unprecedented seventh constructors’ and drivers’ double in succession.

Verstappen and teammate Alex Albon will have an upgraded Honda engine package, developed since the coronavirus lockdown ended, to boost them at the contest in the Styrian Alps where the 800-meter altitude can affect engine performance.

Mercedes will also have an updated package while Ferrari, struggling to match them in pre-season testing, announced Tuesday that they are updating their cars for the third race in Hungary.

Hamilton this year bids for a record-equalling seventh drivers title as he campaigns passionately for greater diversity, and against racism, in the sport.

“We are preparing the best way we can for what is going to be the most difficult season that F1 and all of us have experienced,” he said in a video from the team, which — at his prompting — is running black livery this year to support equality and diversity.