Dortmund keep Bundesliga title challenge alive

May 24 2020

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PADERBORN: SC Paderborn goalkeeper Leopold Zingerle (2ndL) concedes a goal against TSG Hoffenheim during the German first division Bundesliga match on Saturday.—AFP
PADERBORN: SC Paderborn goalkeeper Leopold Zingerle (2ndL) concedes a goal against TSG Hoffenheim during the German first division Bundesliga match on Saturday.—AFP

BERLIN: Borussia Dortmund are keeping their Bundesliga title challenge alive despite playing with no spectators and amid strict hygiene measures against the coronavirus.

Dortmund quietly labored at Wolfsburg to a 2-0 win on Saturday, closing the gap on Bayern Munich to a point, ahead of the leaders late game at home to Eintracht Frankfurt.

Bayern will then host Dortmund on Tuesday for a game that will go a long way to deciding the championship — assuming the remaining seven rounds go ahead.

The league resumed last weekend after its pandemic-induced two-month break and players must undergo regular testing for Covid-19 before they are cleared to play.

Like last weekend, players wore face-masks on arrival for all games on Saturday, while those who didn’t start kept them on and maintained their distance. Balls were disinfected, and officials conducted pre-game interviews at a distance with microphones mounted on poles to keep TV reporters at bay.

The German football federation (DFB) sent a letter to the clubs during the week warning them that society and politicians were watching closely after some criticism of goal celebrations that went too far the previous weekend.

Hertha Berlin’s players celebrated freely in their 3-0 win at Hoffenheim last week, but made a point of refraining in the 4-0 derby win over Union Berlin on Friday.

The DFB said local health authorities could consider TV images when deciding on imposing quarantine measures on teams in case of a positive result for Covid-19.

Dortmund struggled to impose themselves against Wolfsburg but scored with their first real chance through Guerreiro in the 32nd minute. Julian Brandt cleverly played in Hakimi, who sent Thorgan Hazard through. Hazard cut the ball back for Erling Haaland who missed it but Guerreiro was there to sweep the ball to the net.

Dortmund defender Mats Hummels went off at the break. It was unclear if he was injured or being rested for Tuesday’s clash with Bayern.

Renato Steffen hit the crossbar with Wolfsburg’s closest chance right after the break, when the home side dominated.

But Wolfsburg was caught on a counterattack led by Jadon Sancho in the 78th, when Hakimi fired in the far corner.

Wolfsburg’s Felix Klaus was sent off minutes later with the help of VAR after catching Manuel Akanjis calf from behind. He looked dismayed to be sent off, but left the field without protest.

Meanwhile it was announced that German World Cup-winning midfielder Mario Goetze will leave Dortmund at the end of the season, the club’s sports director Michael Zorc said on Saturday.

Speaking to Sky television before the game at VfL Wolfsburg, Zorc confirmed that Goetze would be leaving after the season.

“This week I had a long and clarifying discussion with Mario,” he said. “We agreed that we will not continue our collaboration after this season.”

Goetze, who scored the winning goal for Germany in the 2014 World Cup final victory over Argentina, is a product of Dortmund’s youth academy.

The 27-year-old played there until 2013, when he switched to league rivals Bayern Munich. He returned to the Ruhr valley club in 2016 but has not managed to claim back a regular starting spot.

Current coach Lucien Favre said this week Goetze was not a starting option in the 3-4-3 system he was playing.

Borussia Monchengladbach were silently cheered on by 13,000 plastic cutout fans in the stands, but couldn’t help slumping against Bayer Leverkusen 3-1 at home.

Two goals from Kai Havertz, the second a penalty confirmed by VAR, and another from Sven Bender lifted Leverkusen above Gladbach into fourth place, Germany’s last to qualify for the Champions League.

As well as the cutouts of real supporters, Gladbachs stands were adorned with banners protesting against games without spectators.

Also, Werder Bremen held on for a 1-0 win over Freiburg, which had a late equalizer ruled out through VAR after Bremen midfielder Philipp Bargfrede was sent off, and last-place Paderborn drew with Hoffenheim 1-1.

Late on Friday Hertha Berlin celebrated their second successive win since the Bundesliga resumed after a fine performance gave them a 4-0 home victory over Union Berlin.

Hertha brushed aside their city rivals thanks to second-half goals from Vedad Ibisevic, Dodi Lukebakio, Matheus Cunha and Dedryck Boyata to follow up last Saturday’s 3-0 win at Hoffenheim.

The result lifted Hertha one place up to 10th on 34 points from 27 games while promoted Union, who won the reverse fixture in November 1-0 thanks to a late penalty, stayed 12th on 30 points.

Visiting keeper Rafal Gikiewicz pulled off four excellent saves to deny Lukebakio and Cunha before Ibisevic opened the floodgates in driving rain when he headed home an inch-perfect cross by Marvin Plattenhardt in the 51st minute.

Hertha doubled their lead barely 20 seconds later as they won possession straight from the restart and Lukebakio rounded Gikiewicz before he steered the ball home with a clinical finish from 10 metres.

Both scorers had to keep their team-mates at bay from joining the celebrations, in line with the rules put in place for a return to action, which Hertha broke in their win over Hoffenheim, prompting a warning from league officials.

The lively Cunha added the third on the hour with a sizzling low shot into the far corner as he showed some neat footwork before Ibisevic teed him up on the edge of the penalty area.

Belgian defender Boyata put the icing on the cake for Hertha when he powered in a 77th-minute header from a Plattenhadt corner, with toothless Union offering nothing at the other end.

Published in Dawn, May 24th, 2020