[GERMANY]There were draws and drama at the top of the Bundesliga as Hoffenheim tied nine-man Schalke to take the unofficial title of "fall champion" at the season's half way point, and Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen were both thwarted by last-minute equalizers. It was another bad day for Michael Bradley, substituted after an hour as his bottom-placed Borussia Moenchengladbach side lost again, 2-1 at short-handed Borussia Dortmund.
Schalke went 1-0 up at leader Hoffenheim through a first-half Gerald Asamoah goal, then were reduced to 10 men after Jermaine Jones was given a dubious second yellow card for an arguably clean, and certainly not ill-intentioned, tackle. His teammate Orlando Engelaar was so furious that he also saw yellow, which later became a red too for foul play. In the meantime, Selim Teber's superb, curling free-kick had brought Hoffenheim level. Despite a frenetic finale, Schalke held on for the point.
"We didn't let Hoffenheim have the space that they normally like to have," said Schalke coach Fred Rutten, something his fellow coaches might like to take note of in the second half of the season. Jones's dismissal was wrong, but Engelaar's justified, he added, though said nothing about his two assistant coaches who were also sent to the stands. Hoffenheim's Ralf Rangnick said his team wanted the three points so much that they were "almost arrogant, and I didn't much like that. I'm happy to be in first place, but I'd have been much happier with the two extra points."
Bayern, which would have gone top with a win, also had to make do with a point when Stuttgart's midfielder Sami Khedira scored in stoppage time at the end of each half, the second a corking volley from a poorly cleared corner to save the game. In between, Tim Borowski and Luca Toni, with his ninth goal of the season and his sixth in six games, scored for Bayern, who also lost Italian defender Massimo Oddo to a straight red card for violent play.
"It was an exciting, gripping derby," said Bayern coach Juergen Klinsmann. "All in all, I'm happy with what the team has achieved in the past three months." Stuttgart coach Markus Babbel, unbeaten after three games in charge, was also happy that his team showed "passion and resolve right up until the end. But I'm not completely happy with the result, because we had enough chances to win."
Lowly Cottbus leveled at Bayer Leverkusen with the last touch of the game through a header from Chinese substitute Jiayi Shao after Simon Rolfes had given the home side the lead on 77 minutes. That result dropped Leverkusen down to fifth, three points off the lead, as they were leapfrogged by Hertha Berlin, 4-0 winners over Karlsruhe, and Hamburg, which beat Eintracht Frankfurt on a superb diving header from Mladen Petric, his eighth of the season and his 14th in all competitions.
There was a win, a tie and a loss for the Bundesliga's three Americans. The win and the loss came in the same game, as Neven Subotic played through for a Borussia Dortmund team that held on to beat Bradley's last-place Borussia Moenchengladbach, 2-1, despite being down to 10 men after Hungarian midfielder Tamas Hajnal's red card after just 38 minutes. Bradley was subbed out just before the hour with his side 2-0 down. Dortmund goes into the winter break in sixth place. Steve Cherundolo returned to the Hannover team, but they could only tie, 1-1, at home to Arminia Bielefeld, leaving them just four points above the relegation zone.
Volatile Bremen beat Wolfsburg 2-1, and both teams end the first half of the season on 27 points in eight and ninth place respectively. Bochum, level on points at the bottom with Moenchengladbach, lost 2-1 at home to Cologne.
The Bundesliga is finely poised for an exciting second half of the season when it resumes Jan. 30, with just three points separating the top five clubs. A number of teams have adopted positive, attacking philosophies that have made the league far more entertaining to watch than either the English Premier League or the Italian Serie A. Only the technically superior Spanish Liga comes close to matching its average of just over three goals per game.
Goals scored Dec. 12-14: 24 in nine games (2.67 per game)
Goals scored in 2008-09 season: 462 in 153 games (3.02 per game