Berlin (AFP) – Hamburg legend Felix Magath admits feeling uneasy about plotting to block his former club’s return to the Bundesliga as coach of rivals Hertha Berlin in Thursday’s relegation/promotion play-off first leg.
Magath famously scored the winning goal for Hamburg in their 1983 European Cup final victory over Juventus.
The 68-year-old is still held in high esteem in the north German city having made 388 appearances for Hamburg, with whom he won three Bundesliga titles.
Yet as head coach of Hertha, Magath is calculating how best to win Thursday’s game at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium, with the return leg in Hamburg next Monday.
Magath said he feels slightly “uncomfortable” working against his old club, but his priority is helping Hertha, so “it doesn’t matter.”
Hamburg are sleeping giants of German football having spent the last four seasons in Germany’s second division.
They missed out on promotion by finishing fourth in each of the three previous seasons, but five straight wins saw them finish third this campaign to qualify for the play-off.
In contrast, the Hertha team is low on confidence.
Magath signed a contract until the end of the season in March, tasked with keeping the club up after Tayfun Korkut was sacked.
They have won two of seven games under Magath, finishing the season with back-to-back defeats against Mainz and Dortmund to drop into 16th place and the play-off.
With Hertha’s nine-year stay in the Bundesliga at risk, Magath is treating the play-off as “a final” and is focusing just on “myself, my team and my task.”
He may have to field inexperienced goalkeeper Oliver Christensen with first-choice Marcel Lotka sustaining a broken nose and back-up Alexander Schwolow also injured.
Hertha managing director Fredi Bobic insists his side “can take the pressure”, but there is palpable “tension” around the club.
All 7,500 tickets for away fans were quickly snapped up and Berlin’s 77,000-capacity Olympic Stadium is expected to sell out.
“What we have achieved is very special, because six weeks ago hardly anyone outside the club would have expected it,” said Hamburg captain Sebastian Schonlau.
“We can create something great that would be unbelievable for the club and city,” Schonlau added.
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