The three-times German champions are the only club never to have been relegated since the Bundesliga’s creation in 1963, but they were 1-0 down and on their way out on the final match. Hamburg narrowly avoided a first-ever relegation after a dramatic late fight back saw them beat Karlsruhe 3-2 on aggregate in the relegation play-off. After finishing 16th in the league table again this year, Bruno Labbadia’s side had to play Karlsruher, who finished third in the second-tier 2 Bundesliga.
Thursday’s first leg ended 1-1, and Karlsruher went ahead in the tie when Yabo slotted home through Rene Adler’s legs. Late goals over 120 minutes of breath-taking football have secured Hamburg’s Bundesliga status for another season.
Until the 91st minute, Hamburg was still staring relegation in the face with Reinhold Yabo firing into the net on 78 minutes to give the southwest German side a 2-1 advantage on aggregate. Their raucous travelling support feared the worst until the Chilean international Marcelo Díaz curled home a last-minute free-kick to take the tie into extra time. Having forced extra time, six-time German champions Hamburg, who had former Tottenham midfielders Rafael van der Vaart and Lewis Holtby in their starting XI, all but ensured victory with a second goal that left Karlsruher needing to score twice.
After Diaz’s curled free-kick cancelled out Reinhold Yabo’s composed finish, Nicolai Muller turned in with the tie five minutes from penalties. Karlsruher saw a 120th-minute penalty saved but Hamburg would have won on away goals had RouwenHennings scored.
In the end, Rene Adler saved from RouwenHennings to ensure Hamburg won the relegation play-off for the second year running. Adler said: “I feel like I aged three years tonight. It’s incredible what we did in the last six weeks. A triumph of team spirit.
“It was a crazy match and anything could have happened in a match like this. I was already thinking at the end of regulation time that we’d end up in the second division but caught myself and said, ‘Stop, no that’s not going to happen’.”
The late drama ensured the former European champions narrowly maintained their proud record after another dismal season. “No one gave up,” said Müller, whose tap-in secured the victory. “We did it. We’re still in the Bundesliga. We were carrying a lot of baggage all season and it feels great to unload that all in a few seconds now.”
By the result of the game, Karlsruhe miss out on a spot in Germany’s top flight alongside second division champions Ingolstadt and runners-up Darmstadt, who were both promoted.