Fortuna Duesseldorf are a step closer to returning to the Bundesliga after beating Hertha Berlin 2-1 in the first leg of the playoff on Thursday.
Roman Hubnik put the home side in front in the 19th minute, but Thomas Broeker equalized in the 64th and an Adrian Ramos own goal in the 71st put Fortuna firmly in control before Tuesday’s second leg in Duesseldorf.
“It’s just one game. Fantastic to win it. Today was something special,” Duesseldorf coach Norbert Meier said. “I sweated like a pig.”
Hertha, 16th in the Bundesliga, and Duesseldorf, third in the second division, are vying for a place in the top division next season, with the loser going into the second tier.
If the sides finish level on aggregate after both games, away goals will be considered, with extra time and penalties deciding the winner if necessary.
Hertha earned promotion from the second division last year after being relegated the season before, while Duesseldorf hope to end a 15-year absence from the Bundesliga.
The visitors came closest to scoring early on, Thomas Kraft saving from Duesseldorf captain Andreas Lambertz and then pushing Adam Bodzek’s header just wide.
Hubnik beat Broeker to Aenis Ben-Hatira’s corner to score with a header, and Hertha seemed in control until Broeker atoned for his mistake with a fine individual effort.
“It was a stupid goal,” Hertha captain Levan Kobiashvili said. “After the first half, very few thought we’d give up the game. To lose like that is very bitter.”
Broeker beat three Hertha defenders — including Hubnik — on the right before shooting beyond Kraft in off the near post.
“The self-confidence came back with the equalizer,” Meier said.
Duesseldorf pushed forward and deservedly scored when Ramos’ attempted clearance from Ken Ilso’s dangerous free-kick flew past the helpless Kraft.
The unfortunate Ramos was playing only because Hertha’s top scorer, Pierre-Michel Lasogga, suffered a cruciate ligament injury in his right knee during the last Bundesliga game of the season.
Kraft pulled off an outstanding one-handed save to deny Broeker late and keep Hertha still in the tie.
“We still have a small chance,” Hertha coach Otto Rehhagel said. “As long as you have it, you have to try and use it.
The 73-year-old Rehhagel coached Meier as a player for eight years at Werder Bremen in the 1980s.
Only four second-division teams progressed from the 13 playoffs to date.
AP, EVIAN, FRANCE
Meanwhile, Lyon beat mid-table Evian 3-1 to consolidate fourth place in the French league on Thursday.
Yannick Sagbo opened the scoring for the hosts in the 15th minute by converting a cross from fullback Daniel Wass.
However, Lyon centerback Bakary Kone equalized with a header in the 23rd from a corner by Yoann Gourcuff.
Evian goalkeeper Stephan Andersen palmed a cross from Lyon striker Bafetimbi Gomis into the path of an unmarked Jimmy Briand, who volleyed home in the 68th.
Lyon substitute Alexandre Lacazette sealed the win in stoppage time with a spot-kick after Evian defender Cedric Cambon fouled him.
The match was initially scheduled for April 29, but was postponed because Lyon played Quevilly in the French Cup final the day before.