Fortuna Duesseldorf 1895 secured promotion to return to the top flight after a 15-year absence following a 2-2 draw against Hertha BSC Berlin amid chaotic scenes on Tuesday.
The game was held up twice when supporters threw flares onto the pitch, before a premature fan invasion in stoppage-time delayed the final whistle by 20 minutes.
“Of course we’re happy, but with a bit of reservation,” Duesseldorf defender Jens Langeneke said. “I imagined it a little differently.”
Fortuna, who finished third in Germany’s second division, won the series 4-3 on aggregate after claiming a 2-1 victory in Berlin in the first leg last week.
Hertha entered the relegation-promotion playoff after finishing 16th in the Bundesliga and they have been relegated for the second time in three seasons — the sixth time overall.
“We weren’t first division material for the whole second half of the season,” Hertha defender Christian Lell said. “We’re all extremely disappointed.”
It marked the end of Hertha coach Otto Rehhagel’s long and distinguished career. The 73-year-old won his first title, the German Cup, with Duesseldorf in 1980, but will be best remembered for leading Greece to the European Championship title in 2004.
Maximilian Beister gave Duesseldorf the perfect start when he scored after 25 seconds, cutting inside before unleashing an unstoppable shot from outside the penalty area past goalkeeper Thomas Kraft.
Aenis Ben-Hatira deservedly pulled the visitors level in the 22nd minute with a header from Ronny’s poorly defended free-kick, before both goalkeepers were called into action with chances at either end.
However, Hertha’s chances were dealt a blow in the 54th minute when Ben-Hatira was sent off for a second bookable offense.
Ranisav Jovanovic made it 2-1 to Duesseldorf five minutes later, Thomas Broeker sending in a perfect cross for the halftime substitute to head beyond Kraft.
The game was then held up when several fireworks and flares landed on the pitch, with players from both sides urging the offending fans to stop.
Adam Matuschyk should have made the game safe for Duesseldorf, before Raffael ensured a nervy finish when he equalized with five minutes remaining.
Another goal would have clinched survival for Hertha on the away-goals rule, but the game was held up again, with riot police lining up on the sidelines before play could resume.
With seven minutes’ stoppage-time to be played, fans were unable to contain their emotion and stormed the pitch in celebration before Wolfgang Stark could blow the fulltime whistle.
They were urged to return to their seats with two minutes still to be played. One fan was already digging up part of the Duesseldorf turf as a keepsake.
The Duesseldorf players were already waiting when Stark eventually re-emerged after fans had been coaxed off, but it took some time for the Hertha players to show.
Sky TV reported that they were consulting with a lawyer before deciding what to do.
The visitors eventually ran onto the pitch, receiving a rousing reception only bettered when the fulltime whistle blew 90 seconds later.
“That was the most exciting final I’ve ever seen,” Duesseldorf captain Andreas Lambertz said. “It was so nerve-wracking, I’m glad it’s over.”