Berlin, Cologne battle for survival

Published Apr. 5, 2012 1:00 a.m. EDT

Lukas Podolski's last Bundesliga job is to save his beloved Cologne from relegation before he departs for Arsenal.

At the same time, Hertha Berlin needs to beat Hoffenheim and hope for Bayern Munich not to lose in Cologne to avoid the drop.

Hoffenheim travels to Berlin led by coach Markus Babbel, who was fired earlier this season by Hertha, and would not mind seeing Berlin go down.

Podolski confirmed this week that he was leaving for Arsenal, but said he still had some unfinished business in Cologne.


Cologne and Berlin are both striving for 16th place, and even that does not guarantee safety, but only a playoff against the third-place second division team. The winner of the two-leg playoff will play in the Bundesliga next season.

''Our goal is to stay in the Bundesliga and beat Bayern,'' Podolski said this week. ''Even if Bayern plays with the best team, the chance is there and we have to use it.''

''It's in our hands. If we win, we are in the playoff,'' Podolski said.

Podolski spent three unhappy seasons in Bayern before returning to Cologne, where he enjoys cult status.

Bayern has nothing but pride to play for since it's certain to stay second.

Borussia Dortmund, assured of its second consecutive title, hosts Freiburg and hopes for a win that would give it a final tally of 81 points, a Bundesliga record.

The only open question on the final day of the season Saturday is who will join Kaiserslautern on the way down.

Podolski is sure to get a tremendous farewell from Cologne fans, no matter how the game ends.

''Cologne is and remains my club. The fans are something special. When you come out of the tunnel and you hear the (club) anthem, that's unique. It's a feeling you get nowhere else in the world,'' Podolski said.

On paper, Hertha would seem to have an easier job, since it also has a better goal difference and would move ahead of Cologne even if Bayern gets only a draw.

But Hertha has been a slapstick production all season.

It fired Babbel in December after he and manager Michael Preetz got into an argument. Hertha replaced Babbel with Michael Skibbe, but sacked him as well, after five straight losses. It then hired 73-year-old Otto Rehhagel but has made no noticeable progress.

Babbel sees Saturday's match as a chance for a personal vendetta. With him still in charge, he said, Hertha would not be in such trouble.

''We would not have been relegated, 100 percent, I would have bet everything on that,'' Babbel told Berlin's Tagesspiegel newspaper this week.

Hoffenheim has nothing to play for, ''but I am going to motivate my team,'' Babbel said. ''It's not going to be a normal match in Berlin. I am not gifting anything to Hertha and I want the three points by all means.''

Hertha officials tried to remain cool.

''We are playing against Hoffenheim and not against Babbel,'' Preetz said.

''Coaches don't score goals,'' Rehhagel retorted.

In other final-round matches Saturday, it's Nuremberg vs. Bayer Leverkusen; Werder Bremen vs. Schalke; Augsburg vs. Hamburger SV; Hannover vs. Kaiserslautern; Stuttgart vs. Wolfsburg, and Mainz vs. Borussia Moenchengladbach.