Livescore Sunday, April 21
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After well over 3,200 minutes of football, it still all came down to a few seconds of luck and misfortune. Of skill and error.

Jamal Musiala’s 89th-minute winner in Cologne and Borussia Dortmund buckling under the weight of history made it a Bundesliga season for the ages, but there was almost as much drama at the other end of the table. And it’s still not quite over.

Like a very good film packed with layers of meanings and unexpected plot points, 2022-23 will stay with you much longer than the final frame.

For VfB Stuttgart, in particular, it will be an extended version. The Swabians have to take on second-division Hamburger SV in the relegation play-offs on Thursday and next Monday following a 1-1 draw with TSG Hoffenheim. Teams from the top division have beaten 2.Bundesliga sides on 11 of the last 14 occasions but, for obvious reasons, Stuttgart can’t rely on simply being the better footballing side: they were also easily the best footballing side in the relegation battle yet could not save themselves outright.

On Saturday, Sebastian Hoeness’ men were unlucky to find themselves 1-0 down to Ihlas Bebou’s opener 15 minutes from time after dominating much of the game and were unlucky not to win after Tiago Tomas had struck an equaliser with 10 minutes to go. The Portuguese centre-forward could have added two more in injury time to spare VfB the two unsettling encounters with HSV.

“It’s obvious and only human to be affected mentally,” said Hoeness, 41, of his team’s many missed opportunities in front of goal.

His predominantly young side, put together by departed sporting director Sven Mislintat, has looked nervy in recent weeks, but their overall performances have been encouraging. Even with a lot of bad luck and poor finishing, they have picked up the fifth-most points in the league since Hoeness, nephew of Bayern Munich supremo Uli, took over from Bruno Labbadia nine games ago.

He made a point of going over to the die-hard supporters after the final whistle, trying to “make a connection with them”, as he said. Unlike in previous years, VfB’s difficult-to-please fans have continued to back the team and will have to be a factor if Stuttgart are to use their home advantage in the first leg of the relegation play-off.

“We all need to stand together: the club, the city, the team,” Hoeness vowed. “Then we can pull this off together.”

His opposite number, Tim Walter, was coach of Stuttgart for six months in 2019-20 before he was sacked shortly before Christmas. He will have his work cut out to lift a team that suffered a cruel heartbreak on Sunday.

After beating SV Sandhausen 1-0 away, they thought they were going up directly for the first time since dropping down a division in 2018 as, at that point, 1 FC Heidenheim were losing 2-1 at Jahn Regensburg. HSV supporters flooded the pitch. Sandhausen’s stadium announcer even erroneously congratulated them on their promotion. They were halfway through dismantling the goals and claiming bits of the pitch when Heidenheim equalised.

As jubilation gave way to an angst-laden wait, Tim Kleindienst scored Heidenheim’s winner in the ninth minute of injury time.

It doesn’t get much more brutal, especially if you consider that Hamburg contested last season’s play-off — and lost. “We have suffered so many setbacks, we’ll get back up again,” sporting director Jonas Boldt said. “I”m sure that we will be rewarded, eventually.”

Tiny Heidenheim — population 50,000 — going up for the first time in history is a heartwarming story, as is the re-emergence of fellow promoted side Darmstadt 98. But for the Bundesliga as a whole, losing blue-chips Hertha BSC and Schalke 04 (whose fabulous comeback under Thomas Reis was not quite enough as they lost 4-2 at RB Leipzig) really hurts.

Ideally, they would have had both Stuttgart and Hamburg around next year, not just one at the expense of the other.

In terms of history, fanbase and stadium attendance, next season will feel a bit smaller, which will in turn reduce the scope for drama. In this enduringly capricious league, surprise under and overachievers will continue to abound. But for the madness to truly resonate, you need as many people as possible affected by it.

It might take another 50 years before the fanbase of four of the best-supported clubs in the country — Bayern, Dortmund, Schalke and Hamburger SV — all experience such a thrilling, or crushing, last matchday of the season.

VfL Bochum used to be called “the Unrelegatables” (Die Unabsteigbaren). It is too soon to reclaim that moniker, but the manner of their survival was certainly impressive.

Thomas Letsch’s side beat a tired and ill-disciplined Bayer Leverkusen — who lost Amine Adli to a red card early on — 3-0 to finish the campaign on cloud 14, two points clear of the bottom three. VfL supporters also took bits of grass with them as souvenirs, but the Ruhrstadion greenskeepers won’t complain too much. A few weeks ago, they had looked pretty nailed on for the drop.

In sunnier climes, Union Berlin might well be the biggest winners of them all.

Yes, Bayern lifted the Meisterschale for a 33rd time and celebrated with supporters in a nice town square ceremony alongside the women’s team, who also won the championship. But who is still really counting in Bavaria? Over in Kopenick, by contrast, the mere sound of the Champions League anthem, blasted over the Alte Forsterei tannoy at the final whistle of their 1-0 win over Werder Bremen catapulted the crowd into dreamland.

As if going up (in 2019), staying up (in 2020), making the Europa Conference League (in 2021) or the Europa League (in 2022) had not been miraculous enough already, Urs Fischer and his merry men of super hardworking pros will host the world’s elite next season. It really does beggar belief.

One must only hope UEFA’s technocrats will allow them to stage the games at their own ground rather than force a move into the Olympic stadium. Union can easily sell 74,000 tickets to fill the bigger arena, but it wouldn’t quite be the same.

Alte Forsterei under the floodlights would be the most magical place of the competition.

(Top photo: Patrick Mainka of FC Heidenheim lifts the Meisterschale trophy after winning 2.Bundesliga; Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)



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