Bayern game ends in farce after fan banner at Hoffenheim

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              Bayern's fans light flares during a German Bundesliga soccer match between TSG 1899 Hoffenheim and Bayern Munich in Sinsheim, Germany, Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)
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BERLIN (AP) — Bayern Munich and Hoffenheim players spent the final 15 minutes of their Bundesliga game farcically playing the ball among themselves — and even exchanging passes with the opposition — as they wound down the clock after Hoffenheim’s billionaire backer was insulted by away fans on Saturday.

Bayern was already leading 6-0, but the goal-fest was over as both sides agreed not to compete in the teeming rain after a banner calling Dietmar Hopp a “son of a whore” was displayed, among others, in the Bayern block of fans.

Bayern players and coaching staff reacted with fury to the insults targeting Hopp from their own fans, and they remonstrated angrily with the traveling supporters on both occasions that referee Christian Dingert suspended play.

They refused to play competitively in protest against the supporters’ actions once the game resumed for the second time.

“It was the players’ idea after consulting with the referee,” said Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, who stood with Hopp by the side of the field as both teams’ players casually swapped passes with each other. The players were applauded by the home fans.

Rummenigge didn’t hold back in his criticism of the Bayern fans.

“I am deeply ashamed of these troublemakers. The moment has come today at the latest when the whole Bundesliga has to deal with them. We all have to stand together,” Rummenigge said. “We have closed our eyes to what happens in the stands for too long. This is the hateful face of football.”

Earlier, while they were still playing, 18-year-old Joshua Zirkzee scored on his first start for Bayern and Philippe Coutinho added two to help the side open a four-point lead at the top of the table.

The visitors dominated from the off and raced into an early lead through Serge Gnabry and then Joshua Kimmich in the first seven minutes.

Zirkzee had been given his chance due to Robert Lewandowski’s injury and duly took it by scoring Bayern’s third goal in the 15th minute. Bayern’s top scorer Lewandowski is out for around four weeks with a fracture below his left knee.

Coutinho scored Bayern’s fourth with a deflected shot in the 33rd.

The visitors’ dominance was such that Hoffenheim was fortunate not to be down by more at the break.

Coutinho grabbed his second goal just after the second half started, with a volley from Thomas Müller’s cross, and the Brazilian was involved again as he played in Corentin Tolisso to set up Leon Goretzka in the 62nd.

But then the game was interrupted after fans in the Bayern block displayed the banners with crude insults for Hopp — as some Borussia Mönchengladbach fans had done the weekend before in reaction to Borussia Dortmund fans being sanctioned by the German soccer federation for also displaying similar banners.

Hopp, co-founder of the SAP software giant, has long been unpopular among rival fans for financing Hoffenheim’s rise from obscurity to the Bundesliga, and for his opposition to the league’s 50 1 rule, which protects clubs from takeovers by a majority stakeholder. Hopp was granted an exception in 2015 due to his longstanding support of the club.

Bayern’s players remonstrated with the supporters before Dingert allowed the game to continue. Rummenigge looked embarrassed and put his arm around the shaken-looking Hopp.

Dingert suspended play a second time a short time later as another insulting banner was displayed. The whole Bayern team raced over to remonstrate with the fans. Coach Hansi Flick, assistant coach Hermann Gerland and sporting director Hasan Salihamidžić were visibly angry at their behavior.

The game eventually resumed again but there was no more real soccer played. Players from both sides joined Hopp and Rummenigge to applaud after the final whistle, with the home fans chanting “Dietmar Hopp, Dietmar Hopp!” to show him their support.

MORE HOPP PROTESTS

Dortmund’s 1-0 win over Freiburg was also briefly held up due to insulting chants against Hopp from the home fans.

Jadon Sancho’s 15th-minute goal was enough for Dortmund to stay four points behind Bayern.

More protests against Hopp and the German soccer federation led to a delay to the second half of Cologne’s 3-0 win over Schalke in the late game. Cologne players and management urged their supporters to remove an insulting banner before the game could continue.

Lars Stindl scored twice to help Borussia Mönchengladbach win 3-2 at Augsburg to consolidate fourth place, and Mainz defeated bottom side Paderborn 2-0.

Second-place Leipzig hosts Bayer Leverkusen on Sunday.