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Football | Germany

Lukas Podolski © Reuters Images

Relegation fears add thrills to match day

Borussia Dortmund were crowned Bundesliga champions last week, meaning the German participants in next season's European competitions have all but been finalized.

All of that could have ensured a pretty standard second-last matchday in German football this weekend, if there was not the question of relegation, with Cologne and Hertha Berlin involved in a titanic battle to avoid the dreaded drop.

Kaiserslautern, who were relegated last week despite winning 2-1 at Hertha, take on champions Borussia Dortmund, who need to win both remaining games to break the German record for number of points attained in one season.

One point above Kaiserslautern sit Hertha on 28 points ahead of a difficult away game at Schalke 04, who are currently third, which would see them qualify directly for the Champions League group phase if they maintain the position.

Veteran coach Otto Rehhagel, who has not brought the expected turn-around to the club, took his players to a training camp ahead of the match.

"It is important that we as a team have the time to concentrate on what lies ahead of us in a calm manner," Rehhagel said. "We are able to calculate and we can read the table. We know Freiburg have to help us.

"But we owe it to our fans that we try everything possible against Schalke to turn things around. To do that, we need to talk a lot, we need to communicate with each other and we have to train well to prepare ourselves for this important task," he said.

Two points above Hertha are Cologne, who are away to Freiburg at the weekend. All nine league matches have the same kick-off time.

Both teams know that, realistically, the best they can hope for is 16th place, which would give them a chance to stay up in a two-legged play-off against the third-placed team from the second division.

Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes, meanwhile, will face a difficult task to motivate his players for their second-last game against VfB Stuttgart.

The club from Bavaria are already assured of second place and - more importantly - on Wednesday qualified for a home Champions League final after a penalty shoot-out victory against Real Madrid.

Bayern president Uli Hoeness said after the historic 3-1 penalty shoot-out victory in Madrid - which was needed to decide the winner of the tie after Real won 2-1 to make the aggregate score 3-3 - that he was glad they had secured second place last weekend.

"Can you imagine what would have happened had we needed a point or even three against Stuttgart? It would have been difficult to motivate the players," he said.

Augsburg, whom few gave a chance to stay in the league beyond their first-ever season, need just three more points to make sure of first-division football next season.

They are away to fourth-placed Borussia Moenchengladbach and would also stay up regardless of their score should Cologne fail to win in Freiburg.

In other matches, Hoffenheim are home to Nuremberg, SV Hamburg face Mainz, while Wolfsburg take on Werder Bremen in a northern German derby.

The final game is between Leverkusen and Hanover.


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