On Sunday, 1. FC Heidenheim and Hamburger SV face off in the Voith-Arena for possibly the most important match of the 2. Bundesliga season.
The teams are currently fourth and third respectively, and the implications for this match are clear – a Hamburg win secures a top three finish and could take them above VfB Stuttgart into second. A Heidenheim win moves them into the top three, with Hamburg fourth on the final day.
Despite a huge disparity of history, resources and expectations, they will meet on an even keel and with the same goal – promotion.
Heidenheim ready for ‘semi-final’
Just 50,000 people live in the Swabian town of Heidenheim an der Brenz. It’s not a historic footballing town, but for the last 11 years its club as played in professional German football, and in a few months’ time, little old Heidenheim could be slugging it out against the likes of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga.
Frank Schmidt, the man who has led Heidenheim from nothing, knows what is at stake. “Everyone knows what Sunday is all about,” he said on Friday, describing the game as a ‘semi-final’. “This time we have to win. A point isn’t enough. We want to go to the finals.”
He admits that “not everyone might have believed that we could pass Hamburg” after losing several key players, namely Roberts Andrich and Glatzel plus Nikola Dovedan, in the summer, but that is now at stake and his team will have to perform for each other. “It is best if each of our players instils a certain degree of self-confidence into the people in front and next to them,” he explained. “Then everyone has the faith to be able to beat HSV.“
Schmidt says all players are in training however the injured pair of Oliver Hüsing and Maximilian Thiel aren’t expected back here. The situation is different for long-serving captain Marc Schnatterer, who has missed the last two games with muscular problems. He only returned to training on Friday but Schmidt “hopes” that he will make it but he remains doubtful.
With or without Schnatterer, Heidenheim will be backing on Tim Kleindienst up top and Niklas Dorsch pulling the strings in the middle. Jonas Föhrenbach at left-back could be a lucky charm as well. He has won all three games he has played against Hamburg – including both with Jahn Regensburg last season – and he scored the only goal as Heidenheim won the reverse fixture in December.
…if Hamburg win: They will confirm a top three finish and would overtake Stuttgart if they fail to beat Nürnberg. Stuttgart avoiding defeat in this scenario also ends Heidenheim’s chances of promotion.
…if they draw: Both teams remain where they are. Heidenheim would be more or less out of automatic promotion due to a weaker goal difference than Stuttgart.
…if Heidenheim win: They overtake Hamburg in third place. Stuttgart would be virtually promoted if they win, again due to goal difference.
Hamburg “deserve” promotion
The draw with VfL Osnabrück was yet another slip as promotion increasing threatens to slip Hamburg by once more. The ghosts of the defeat to Paderborn at the same stage last season, which ended their hopes of going up, could haunt them here. The stats aren’t in their favour either. Heidenheim are unbeaten in 11 games at home, whilst Hamburg have won just twice away since August.
Ever since Hamburg came down, promotion back to the Bundesliga has been the only goal. Therefore, the pressure is huge, but for Dieter Hecking, this couldn’t have gone any other way. “I said before the first match that it will remain exciting until the end,” he told the media. Despite the pressure, he’s “looking forward to the last two games.”
He admits that the promotion battle is a “new experience” for many of his players, but despite their indifferent form, he feels they are worthy of going up having battled the expectations surrounding the club all season. “This team has been through a lot, especially on an emotional level,” he explained. “That’s why I just wish the boys success because they absolutely deserve it.”
Hecking had everyone in training on Saturday, but the game probably comes too soon for Ewerton and Khaled Narey. Jeremy Dudziak and Rick van Drongolen, who was suspended in midweek, should return here however. The latter could replace Gideon Jung in the team, with Bakary Jatta and Jan Gyamerah tipped by multiple sources to start as well. For Gyamerah, it would be a first start since September.
Hamburg will be hoping that Joel Pohjanpalo, who had an off day against Osnabrück, will be back to the form that has seen him score six goals in seven games since the restart. Martin Harnik though ended an eight-month goal drought in midweek. What happens in their attack may not be the decisive factor though – it’s whether their shaky defence can hold for 90 minutes.
Date: Sunday 21st June 2020.
Kick-Off: 15:30 CEST, 14:30 BST, 09:30 EDT.
Watch / Live Stream: Sky Sport Bundesliga 3 (Germany and Austria), BT Sport 1 (UK and Republic of Ireland), Fox Soccer Match Pass (USA).
This could be a nervy one, and it’s unlikely anything will be settled here. Expect a draw, complete with Hamburg howler.