Pjaca boosts World Cup hopes to fire Schalke second


Berlin (AFP) – Schalke snatched snatched second spot in the Bundesliga from Borussia Dortmund on Saturday as Marko Pjaca enhanced his World Cup hopes by scoring in their 1-0 home win against Hertha Berlin.

Pjaca, 22, is on loan from Juventus in his bid to win a World Cup place with Croatia after tearing his cruciate knee ligament last March.  

The striker claimed his second goal in five league games when Daniel Caligiuri whipped in a cross and Franco di Santo let the ball roll to Pjaca, who scored on 37 minutes.

The victory in Gelsenkirchen saw Schalke leap-frog Dortmund, who now must beat RB Leipzig away later on Saturday to regain second.

Runaway leaders Bayern, who are 17 points clear, play mid-table Freiburg on Sunday.

Reports Bayern approached Freiburg boss Christian Streich last month to replace Jupp Heynckes as head coach next season have added extra spice to the game.

Eintracht Frankfurt went third, pushing Dortmund further down to fourth, with a 1-0 win at home to mid-table Hanover.

Frankfurt defender Danny da Costa headed the hosts ahead from a Jonathan de Guzman cross on 39 minutes.

Da Costa then came within a whisker of conceding a penalty when he made contact with Chile midfielder Miiko Albornoz, who crashed to the turf in the area, and the referee pointed to the spot.

However, the video assistant referee (VAR) came to Da Costa’s rescue as Albornoz was booked for diving. 

Argentina striker Lucas Alario converted a first-half penalty and Julian Brandt scored with a superb chip as Bayer Leverkusen consolidated fifth place with a 2-1 win at Wolfsburg.

Maximilian Arnold clumsily brought down Kai Havertz on the edge of the area on 30 minutes and Alario stepped up to convert the penalty.

A no-frills display from Leverkusen was boosted when Germany winger Brandt doubled the lead with a superb deft chip on 78 minutes.

Admir Mehmedi immediately responded with a consolation effort for Wolfsburg against his former club.

The hosts finished with ten men when Brazilian left-back William was sent off for a second yellow card in added time.

It finished goalless, but there was plenty of drama in Hamburg’s basement battle at home to Mainz.

Hamburg had the ball in the net early on when winger Filip Kostic got in behind the defence to fire home, but the VAR ruled the goal offside.

Mainz had Nigeria defender Leon Balogun sent off for a second yellow card when he fouled Luca Waldschmidt in the area on 61 minutes.

The referee pointed to the spot, but Kostic’s weak attempt was saved by goalkeeper Florian Mueller.

Hamburg are now seven points behind 16th-placed Mainz and on course for a first relegation in the club’s history. 

Having been booed by his own fans last weekend, the pressure eased on Hoffenheim coach Julian Nagelsmann with a 2-0 win at Augsburg.

Croatia striker Andrej Kramaric scored for the fifth match in a row, outjumping the defence to beat the Augsburg goalkeeper with half an hour gone.

Hoffenheim’s Germany winger Serge Gnabry added a superb second on 50 minutes when he finished the move he started after swapping passes with Kramaric. 

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