It’s sure to be a tense night in Heidenheim on Monday when the Bundesliga 2 side host top-flight SV Werder Bremen in the second leg of their relegation/promotion play-off.
- FC Heidenheim 1846 are hoping to reach the elite level of German football for the first time, which would be a big enough story in itself without it coming at the expense of a four-time Bundesliga champion.
Bremen have been relegated once – back in 1979/80 – but they bounced back at the first attempt and have since enjoyed a 40-year stay in the top flight. That status is now very much under threat, however, with the tie finely poised after last Thursday’s first leg in Bremen.
That match finished 0-0, with the visitors stifling their more illustrious opponents and even going close to snatching a valuable lead. Shortly after Bremen had captain Niklas Moisander red-carded, Heidenheim defender Timo Beermann headed just wide from an injury-time corner.
“Of course we would have liked to have scored a goal,” Heidenheim head coach Frank Schmidt said afterward. “But we got a result that gives us a further belief that we can cause a big sensation at home.”
The longest-serving coach across Germany’s top two divisions, Schmidt has already worked wonders at the club where he finished his playing career. Since taking charge in 2007, the 46-year-old has led the underdogs in this play-off to three promotions.
This year is the closest Heidenheim have come to reaching the top flight since they were 3. Liga champions – ahead of RB Leipzig – in 2013/14. Former SC Freiburg forward Tim Kleindienst’s 14 goals this season helped them to their highest ever placing – third – in Bundesliga 2.
Now they are out to emulate 1. FC Union Berlin – who reached the top flight for the first time after beating VfB Stuttgart in last year’s play-off – by becoming the 57th club to feature in the Bundesliga.
Bremen, on the other hand, are hoping to make the most of their second chance. Die Grün-Weißen had looked certain to be relegated automatically but two big wins – 5-1 at SC Paderborn 07 and then 6-1 at home to 1. FC Köln on the final day – saw them climb to third from bottom in the Bundesliga.
Florian Kohfeldt’s team would have been confident ahead of the play-off, especially considering they were 4-1 winners when they met Heidenheim in the second round of the DFB Cup in October.
Thursday’s rematch was very different, however, and Kohfeldt knows that his side have to improve on a “really bad game” in the first leg.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, there will be no spectators in Heidenheim but – with or without fans present – Bremen have been better on the road this season. Six of their eight league victories in 2019/20 came on their travels, and a score draw – by virtue of the away-goal rule – is all they need on Monday.
“It’s 0-0 at half-time,” Kohfeldt said. “They didn’t score an away goal. We have to make sure that we score in Heidenheim – then the situation will look different for us.”
If Heidenheim are to be denied a fairytale success, a hero will have to step up for Bremen. Could it be the young United States international Josh Sargent? Or will it be a club legend who’s likely to start on the bench?
Peruvian veteran Claudio Pizarro is set to finish his Bremen career on Monday. The 41-year-old has already scored 109 goals across four different spells with the Green-Whites. Could he save the day one last time?