Germany: Bundesliga
1 - 4
(1 - 2)
Greuther Fürth
J. Willems (5)
P. Schick (8), S. Azmoun (18), Paulinho (58), E. Palacios (84)
By Peter Weis@PeterVicey

15.30 Kickoffs: Fürth officially relegated, race for Champions' League tightens

A spectacular set of five 15:30 Bundesliga kickoffs produced a combined total of 22 goals! Losses for Fürth and Bielefeld leave the former team officially relegated whilst the latter barely cling on in their fight for survival. 

There was also huge news in the race for the top four. Union Berlin's win over Leipzig, along with Freiburg's wildly entertaining 3-3 draw against Gladbach and a win for Köln, means that five clubs (Köln, Union, Freiburg, Leipzig and Leverkusen) vying for the final two Champions' League spots are separated by just six points. 
Last-placed SpVgg Greuther Fürth entered the Bundesliga's 31st matchday knowing that only a win against visiting Leverkusen would assist them in staving off the inevitable relegation from the top flight. The Middle Franconians were unable to get it. A 1-4 defeat at the Sporthof Ronhof officially sealed Fürth's relegation from the Bundesliga. Bavaria's Kleeblatt have now gone straight back down in their only two seasons in the top division.

Facing a severe personnel shortage, SpVgg head-coach Stefan Leitl turned to on-loan Hertha Berlin striker Jessic Ngankam to partially the attack. Ngankam started alongside captain Branimir Hrgota. Former USMNT phenom Julian Green worked behind the two-striker-set as a ten. Green's fellow German-American Timothy Tillman and former Dortmund prospect Tobias Raschl played deep as anchoring defensive midfielders ahead of a back-five.

Leverkusen trainer Gerardo Seoane went with a 4-2-3-1. Patrik Schick served as the lone striker up top. Iranian attacker Sardar Azmoun occupied the ten-slot while Paulinho and Moussa Diaby handled the flanks. Kerem Demirbay and Charles Aranguiz pulled the strings as double-sixes. The back-four again featured Odilon Kossounou deputizing at right-back.

After an opening five minutes during which neither side could really establish a rhythm, Fürth were actually able to jump ahead. Ngankam engineered the 1-0 by astutely directing a rebound of his own shot over to Jetro Willems. The home crowd went ecstatic at the prospect that their team might potentially be able to pull off the improbable. Unfortunately, just four minutes after the opening goal, Bayer were able to equalize.

SpVgg captain Branimir Hrgota turned the ball over with a failed clearance after a Leverkusen corner. Schick pushed the ball over the line. Although the Czech striker was initially ruled offside, a video review confirmed that Schick's offside position was immaterial in light of Hrgota's turnover. The tally counted and the sides were once again level at 1-1 in the 9th.

The Kleeblätter were able to generate some more chances in the immediate aftermath, but keeper Lukas Hradecky and defender Mitchel Bakker remained on point on respective efforts from Tillman and Ngankam. Another passing error from the hosts then allowed Leverkusen to take the lead. Fürth keeper Andreas Linde played the ball directly into the path of Azmoun in the 18th. The Iranian happily took the gift and finished for the 2-1.

Sitting a bit deeper themselves at this point, Leverkusen invited the hosts to come at them. Leitl's men regrettably couldn't string any dangerous attacks together for the duration of the half. The NRW guests didn't manage much either apart from a strong Schick effort in the 41st that forced Linde into a brilliant save.

Stoppages initially hindered the flow of the match after the restart. Eventually, the decisive goal came in the 58th. Paulinho and Azmoun executed a cheeky give-and-go just outside the 18. Azmoun then serviced Paulinho slickly with a chip-in. The Brazilian initially missed the ball, but was able to bang home on the second attempt.

Ngankam missed a chance to pull one back two minutes later with an uncleanly hit strike. Schick then missed the 4-1 in the 68th with a close-range miss just past the right post. Fürth kept trying to aim for Ngankam with crosses and diagonals. A real chance nevertheless didn't materialize. The 4-1 came in the 84th. Aranguiz set up the subbed on Exequiel Palacios 20 meters out. The Argentine drilled a shot into the bottom-left corner.

Elsewhere in the Bundesliga's 15:30 kickoffs, things got darker for the club one place ahead of Fürth in the table. Arminia Bielefeld dropped their third straight fixture amid an eight-game-winless run. Köln made short work of the DSC with a 3-1 win at the RheinEnergie Stadion. Die Arminen remain in the automatic relegation place on 26 points.

European prospects continue to dim for TSG 1899 Hoffenheim. Sebastian Hoeneß' Kraichgauer were only able manage a 2-2 draw in their trip to Frankfurt. Only able to take a single point, the Sinsheimers are currently in 8th place on 46 points. Wins from Köln and Union Berlin leave them further adrift of the Europa and Conference League places.

Union's win over Leipzig--a direct reversal of Wednesday's Pokal defeat--came via a spectacular late comeback. Urs Fischer's Eisernen entered the 86th minute trailing 0-1. Substitute strikers Sven Michel and Kevin Behrens turned the tables with two goals in the final minutes. Berlin's Köpenick club pushes up to 6th place with the victory. Leipzig find their Champions' League place in jeopardy after the loss.

In a stunning six-goal thriller at Freiburg's Europa Park Stadion, Christian Streich's Breisgauer fought back from a 0-2 deficit to carry a 3-2 lead over Gladbach into second-half injury time. BMG Lars Stindl equalized at 90+3. The draw leaves Freiburg in 5th place; two points behind Leipzig (the team they shall face in the Pokal final) for the final UCL place.

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