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Tardy Toni tops Hoffenheim
by Ian Plenderleith, December 8th, 2008 7AM
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[GERMANY] A stoppage-time goal from Luca Toni saw second-place Bayern Munich come from behind to beat table-topping Hoffenheim 2-1 in a furiously paced game at the Allianz Arena. Hoffenheim stayed first on goal difference as both teams have 34 points, three ahead of Leverkusen, with Hertha and Hamburg lurking a further point back.
The two top teams delivered a game of breathtaking tempo, even if the action failed to live up to the expectations promised by the teams' normally flowing soccer. In the first half there were way more fouls than chances as both sides disrupted each others' rhythm, but in the second the game opened up as legs tired. Even then, there was a touch of good fortune about all three goals.
First, Hoffenheim's Vedad Ibisevic scored his 18th goal of the season four minutes after the break to put Hoffenheim in front, but only after he'd pushed Bayern's Italian defender Massimo Oddo out of the way just prior to taking a cross from Tobias Weis to fire home from close range. After a spell of intense Hoffenheim pressure, Philip Lahm equalized for Bayern on a long shot that was deflected off defender Marvin Compper. Both teams went close to scoring the decisive goal before an injury time defensive tackle from Hoffenheim's Andreas Ibertsberger played the ball into the path of Toni to win the game for the Bavarians.
"The result is extremely bitter for us," said Hoffenheim coach Ralf Rangnick. "A draw would have been absolutely deserved, especially as we got closer to scoring the winner than Bayern. Losing a game like that is brutal." Bayern coach Juergen Klinsmann saw things a little differently. "On both sides, that was a hard fought game. Hoffenheim's the best team we've played against in the Bundesliga [this season]. But we had enough chances to score the winning goal earlier."
It was not a noteworthy weekend for the Bundesliga's U.S. players. Steve Cherundolo was out injured for Hannover as it lost 2-1 to local rival Wolfsburg. Neven Subotic made a crucial clearance to help Dortmund to a point in what was, goals aside, an eventful 0-0 draw at Arminia Bielefeld. And Michael Bradley, after receiving a miserable lowest possible 6.0 rating from kicker magazine for his performance in Borussia Moenchengladbach's home defeat to Cottbus last week, was dropped to the bench for this week's home defeat -- 3-1 to Bayer Leverkusen. He came on with 27 minutes left with all the goals already scored, Leverkusen's potent strike duo of Stefan Kiessling (a brace that took him to eight for the season) and Patrick Helmes (his 12th) having already done the damage.
Gladbach's coach Hans Meyer was nonetheless encouraged. "That was my eighth game in charge," he said. "After the first game we were in last place, and now we're still in last place. But it was the first of these eight games that gave me hope. We lost 3-1 ... but we had really clear-cut chances. I'm not looking into next year completely without hope."
There was relief for under-pressure Schalke coach Fred Rutten as his team beat Hertha Berlin 1-0 on a second-half goal from Gerald Asamoah. "That was clearly a deserved victory," stated Rutten, and his Berlin counterpart Lucien Favre agreed: "We lost the ball too much playing down the middle of the park and watching it come back like a boomerang. That's something we have to correct as quickly as possible."
The Stuttgart revival following Coach Armin Veh's departure continued with a 3-0 win at Cottbus, while Eintracht Frankfurt's bizarre schizophrenic form saw it win 4-0 at home against ten-man Bochum, whose goalkeeper Daniel Fernandes was sent off after five minutes before Nikos Liberopoulos scored twice. Frankfurt in the previous three weeks lost 5-0 at Bremen, beat Hannover 4-0 at home, and before that lost 4-0 at Dortmund.
A Mladen Petric brace lead Hamburg to a 2-1 win at Cologne to keep the pressure on the front-runners, while lowly Karslruhe enjoyed  a rare victory, 1-0 over the erratic Werder Bremen thanks to a late goal from Stefan Buck. "It's an unusual situation for me to analyze a game from which we've taken three points," mused Karlsruhe coach Edmund Becker, before attributing the win to his side's "attitude and passion."
Next weekend sees the concluding round of the first half of the season as the Bundesliga heads into its annual six-week winter break.
Goals scored weekend Dec. 6-7: 23 in nine games (2.56 per game)
Goals scored in 2008-09 season: 416 in 144 games (3.05 per game)

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