Wolfsburg edge near European places
Wolfsburg edged towards a place in Europe next season thanks to a 2-1 win over Hamburg in a northern Germany derby which leaves their rivals in serious relegation danger in the Bundesliga.
Mario Mandzukic put the home team in front in the 46th minute, but Marcus Berg equalised within a minute. Marcel Schafer's 75th minute free-kick then earned Wolfsburg all three points to take them to within a point of local rivals Hannover, who are currently occupying seventh place, which will be worth a place in the UEFA Europa League next season.
Hamburg's fifth defeat in their last six games leaves them at risk of dropping into the bottom three this weekend.
Coach Thorsten Fink made five changes to the side beaten 3-1 by Freiburg last weekend, recalling Heiko Westermann, Dennis Aogo, Berg, Tomas Rincon and Marcell Jansen to his side in a bid to halt their slide towards the bottom three. Wolfsburg coach Felix Magath reacted to recent criticism of Christian Trasch by leaving him on the bench.
The Wolves posed their first threat of the night in the second minute, but Mandzukic's shot only found the side-netting. Wolfsburg looked keen to take advantage of Hamburg's evident insecurities and Mandzukic and Patrick Helmes showed further improvements to their attacking partnership. The two combined in the 34th minute with Helmes unable to test Jaroslav Drobny with his shot at the far post.
Wolfsburg took the lead early in the second half with Mandzukic racing in to meet Ashkan Dejagah's cross to head the home side in front with less than a minute on the clock.
But Hamburg's response was immediate with Westermann sending a long ball forward almost from the restart and Berg provided an excellent finish, controlling the ball first with his chest before lifting it past Diego Benaglio from just inside the penalty area.
The goals were just what the game needed to liven the game up and, after a succession of yellow cards as things threatened to boil over, Schafer showed composure to put Wolfsburg back in front in the 75th minute. He picked his spot inside Drobny's near post with a free-kick which the Hamburg goalkeeper perhaps should have dealt with better than he did.
Hamburg tried to respond again, but Wolfsburg this time held their ground and defended a win which takes them right back into the reckoning for a return to Europe next season.