One of the big, so far unfulfilled dreams of coach Pal Dardai, who has been associated with Hertha BSC for years, is to play a cup final in the Berlin Olympic Stadium; he lives almost next door. And lo and behold: on Saturday, the dream came true, at least a little bit, because as a freshly (re)installed Hertha trainer, he attended a final in a figurative sense, which also exuded cup final flair due to its general conditions: the so-called “Relegation final” of his Hertha against SV Werder Bremen.
The general conditions? Well: The sun was shining, the temperatures were pleasant and May-like and the stadium was sold out with 74,000 people. And as soon as the game had started, something reminded of the cup finals: Hertha was no longer on the pitch. Or at least: not really in the matter. And because that only changed a little at the end, Hertha went down 2:4 goals – and remains a week before the visit to FC Bayern in last place in the table, five points behind non-relegation place 15, which VfL Bochum occupies.
Werder, on the other hand, who were accompanied by 25,000 supporters to Berlin and had their match winner in the three-time goalscorer Marvin Duksch, now has 35 points. And should thus, according to human judgement, silence all prophecies of doom. Because in the past few weeks, people around the Weser Stadium have been reminded again and again that Bremen were in a comfortable position two years ago after two-thirds of the season – only to then smear off. Now Hertha is threatened with relegation to the second division: “The problems in the heads are bigger than I thought,” said Dardai, who stepped in as a Berlin firefighter for the third time after 2015 and 2021.
Given the mental difficulties, Dardai is considering giving the players two days off to clear their minds. The bankruptcy did not catch him completely by surprise, he was “prepared” to a certain extent for the fact that his debut could be lost. “I know the dynamics of football,” said Dardai, who said beforehand that it takes a small miracle to win.
The worst case follows the sausage case: Werder’s quick lead by Marvin Duksch
Long before the game started, a banner could be read proving that the only constant of the current season, the patience of Hertha fans, is coming to an end: “Finally tear yourself apart for Hertha BSC!” It read. And that was particularly noticeable because the east curve remained empty during the warm-up in response to Schalke’s 2:5 disaster. There were protests against the investor “777 Partners”, who probably saved Hertha’s survival. And there was also protest against an aspect of the austerity plan, which means that there shouldn’t be the usual catering at the next general meeting, like that Picture reported a few days ago. “Reduce salaries for top earners, then it’ll be enough for cakes and Viennese,” said one banner. And then the worst case on the pitch followed the sausage case in the stands: Werder took the lead through Marvin Duksch.
Hertha scared Bremen’s limbs shortly after kick-off: A well-timed pass from Marco Richter, who this time directed behind center forward Jessic Ngankam, landed in the third minute at the feet of Dodi Lukebakio, who stormed into the penalty area , but failed because of Jiri Pavlenka. 180 seconds later, however, Duksch scored for the first time: After a dogfight between Bremen’s Mitchell Weiser and Lucas Tousart in midfield, the ball landed at Jens Stage, who served Duksch – and he put the ball past goalkeeper Oliver Christensen into the goal. Duksch was there again in the 27th minute, this time heading in from a cross from Christian Groß, who had no trouble getting through on the right flank against the completely non-contact defense of Marton Dardai and Tolga Cigerci. The Bremen team could only be accused of one thing: they didn’t create a humiliating lead at the break. Maximilian Philipp and Duksch missed great opportunities.
Dardai made three changes at the break: Kevin Prince Boateng came on for Cigerci, Suat Serdar for Derry Sherhant and Uruguayan centre-back Agustín Rogel for Marton Dardai. Only: The medicine was even worse than the disease. The communication problems between Rogel and the rest of the Berlin defense were so monumental that Duksch used the complete disorientation of the defense to make it 3-0 in the meantime and has now scored eleven goals of the season (and thus only five fewer than Niclas Füllkrug, who was unwell on Saturday). The 4-0 was the work of a former Berliner: After a catastrophic back pass from Rogel to goalkeeper Oliver Christensen, Weiser stole the ball from the keeper – and pushed it into the almost empty goal.
What happened next defied any rational explanation. Bremen missed a few more chances – and Hertha actually reared up again. First Jessic Ngankam shortened after a fine pass from Serdar into the penalty area (68th); then Ngankam got a penalty kick against Milos Veljkovic, which Lukebakio (79th) converted. “We showed will, but that’s not enough,” said Dardai. A dejected Boateng made a similar statement, he was almost struggling to regain his composure. “We haven’t dismounted yet…” he said. Which is actually true. But the game provided proof that it is indeed the hardest of Dardai’s three savior missions.