Harnik leads Stuttgart to big win
VfB Stuttgart took a huge step towards securing a European spot next season by crushing Werder Bremen 4-1 on Friday to tighten their hold on fifth spot in the Bundesliga with three games to go.
Three goals in 16 minutes, including two from Austria international Martin Harnik, sank eighth-placed Werder who could now miss out on European football for the second consecutive season.
Stuttgart, who have gone nine games without defeat, are five points ahead of Bayer Leverkusen and Hanover 96. Fifth position at the end of the campaign would earn a spot in the Europa League.
Leverkusen, in sixth, and seventh-placed Hanover play on Saturday.
"I am usually more reserved but tonight I have to say that it was a really super match we played," Stuttgart coach Bruno Labbadia told reporters.
"We put them under pressure from the start. It is a very satisfactory feeling for a coach."
Injury-hit Werder, missing eight players, took the lead when Markus Rosenberg connected with a Marko Marin cross from the right after 25 minutes.
It did not take long for the hosts to level, Christian Gentner curling an unstoppable 20-metre shot past keeper Tim Wiese in the 37th.
Stuttgart top scorer Harnik headed in from close range on the stroke of halftime before adding his 17th league goal of the season from a Tamas Hajnal cross eight minutes after the restart.
Substitute Cacau sealed the win a minute from time, heading in after being left unmarked in the box.
"That second goal just before the break was unnecessary," said Werder coach Thomas Schaaf. "It became very difficult after that.
"Stuttgart were brimming with confidence and we were far too timid."
Leaders Borussia Dortmund, six points clear at the top, travel to bitter rivals Schalke 04 on Saturday while second-placed Bayern Munich need to beat Mainz to keep their slim title hopes alive. (