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Hamburg close in on Bundesliga return after win in Berlin

Berlin (AFP) – Hamburg have one foot back in the Bundesliga after earning a 1-0 win at Hertha Berlin in Thursday’s relegation/promotion play-off, first leg thanks to a speculative strike by midfielder Ludovit Reis.

Reis’ winner at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium gives Hamburg, who were relegated from the top flight in 2018, the edge ahead of Monday’s home second leg.

“It doesn’t matter who scores or how the ball goes in,” Reis told Sky.

“The main thing is we have to stay positive and keep the focus for Monday.”

In front of a sell-out crowd of 76,000, Hertha looked to have taken the lead when Algeria striker Ishak Belfodil headed into the bottom corner, but Maximilian Mittelstaedt was offside when he put in the cross.

Reis, a Netherlands Under-21 midfielder who also qualifies for Slovakia, broke the deadlock with a speculative cross-cum-shot to the far post which looped over Hertha goalkeeper Oliver Christensen on 57 minutes. 

“I saw where the goalkeeper was standing, but my intention was just to get the ball to the far post for someone else,” Reis admitted.

The visitors had another clear chance when Reis forced Christensen into a save from 20 metres out with four minutes left.

Hamburg qualified for the play-off by finishing third in Germany’s second tier after winning all of their last five matches.

Hertha ended up third from bottom of the Bundesliga after losing both of their last two matches against Mainz and Dortmund.

Coached by former Hamburg legend Felix Magath, Hertha face the prospect of being relegated after nine consecutive years in Germany’s top flight.

“It’s only 1-0, everything is still possible,” said Hertha midfielder Niklas Stark.

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