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RB Leizpig claim direct Champions League berth

Berlin (AFP) – RB Leipzig capped off a superb first Bundesliga campaign with automatic qualification for next season’s Champions League as Timo Werner scored twice in Saturday’s 4-1 thrashing of Hertha Berlin.

Leipzig, founded by energy drinks giants Red Bull in 2009, only reached Germany’s top flight this season after four promotions in seven years.

They lie second in the table and are certain to finish in the top three, which means a direct path into the Champions League group stage.

“I am very proud. There is no better place to celebrate before so many fans,” said Leipzig coach Ralph Hasenhuettl as 10,000 RB fans travelled to Berlin.

They are the first Bundesliga club since Kaiserslautern in 1998 to qualify directly for the Champions League immediately after winning promotion.  

Germany striker Werner, 21, now has 19 league goals in a superb season.

“We have deserved this over the course of the season,” said Werner.

“We have achieved something big and belong among the top teams in Europe.”

He netted the opener on 12 minutes with a bullet header from a curling cross from midfielder Marcel Sabitzer.

A howler by Hertha goalkeeper Rune Jarstein, who slipped attempting a clearance, allowed Yussuf Poulsen to knock the ball across the empty Berlin goal for Werner’s simple tap-in on 54 minutes that made it 2-0.

Hertha pulled a goal back when Leipzig’s substitute midfielder Rani Khedira — younger brother of World Cup winner Sami — headed the ball into his own net on 85 minutes.

But Davie Selke, on for Poulsen, netted on 89 minutes and again in stoppage time to seal RB’s victory. Hertha remain on course for a Europa League place in fifth.

Earlier, Juan Bernat netted as champions Bayern Munich laboured to a 1-0 win over bottom club Darmstadt, which confirmed their relegation.

Bayern, Bundesliga champions for the fifth year in a row, were made to work at the Allianz Arena and Darmstadt might have snatched a point, but Hamit Altintop’s late penalty was saved.

Bernat beat two defenders then coolly chipped Darmstadt goalkeeper Michael Esser for the 18th-minute goal that proved to be the winner.

Bayern are 10 points ahead of RB Leipzig while Darmstadt are now an insurmountable nine points from safety with just two games left.

– Aubameyang level with Lewandowski –

Elsewhere, Borussia Dortmund took a step towards a direct Champions League place by climbing into third with a 2-1 win at home to Hoffenheim, who slip to fourth.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s second-half header which proved the winner saw him join Bayern’s Robert Lewandowski on 28 goals in the race to be the Bundesliga’s top scorer. 

Marco Reus gave Dortmund a controversial lead after just four minutes, replays showing he was a metre offside when Gonzalo Castro’s final pass put him behind the defence to tuck home.

Hoffenheim were then left fuming when Reus controlled the ball with his arm — which the referee missed — before firing in a cross which hit defender Pavel Kaderabek’s hand.

Referee Felix Brych pointed to the spot, but justice was seen to be done when Aubameyang fired wide on 14 minutes.

The Gabon hot-shot made amends when he headed home on 82 minutes, but Hoffenheim pulled a goal back when ex-Leicester City striker Andrej Kramaric slotted in a late penalty.

Hoffenheim are now two points behind Dortmund with two games remaining.

Ingolstadt, 17th in the table, still have a chance of staying up after their 1-1 draw with Bayer Leverkusen.

Sonny Kittel’s second-half goal for the hosts was cancelled out by Leverkusen’s 17-year-old midfielder Kai Havertz, leaving Ingolstadt three points from safety.

Winger Andre Hahn scored a 94th-minute equaliser in mid-table Borussia Moenchengladbach’s 1-1 draw with Augsburg, whose Iceland striker Alfred Finnbogason netted their goal.

Wolfsburg, the 2009 champions, are now three points clear of the bottom three after their 2-0 win at Eintracht Frankfurt thanks to goals by Daniel Didavi and Mario Gomez.

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