Germany: Bundesliga
0 - 0
(0 - 0)
Hertha BSC
FC Köln
By Peter Weis@PeterVicey

Relieved Dardai reflects on Hertha's rescue: "Soon I'll have nothing else to do but smoke cigars."

Results from the 2020/21 Bundesliga's penultimate round guaranteed safety for three clubs: FSV Mainz 05, FC Augsburg, and Hertha BSC. 

In the country's capital, a huge collective sigh of relief could be felt as a 0-0 draw against visiting Köln proved sufficient to ensure that West Berlin's club would get another season of top flight football. 

Barely two weeks after emerging from a squad-wide quarantine that threatened to derail their survival hopes, Hertha can finally relax.

Trainer Pal Dardai still wishes to defer for a week.
The fixture list was nearly as brutal as the never-ending catalogue of players who succumbed to injury. Pal Dardai's "alte Dame" had to play five matches in twelve days after exiting a mandated 14-day-quarantine that saw the team fall three matches behind whilst contesting a relegation dogfight.

After the club once again took to the pitch, the potential distractions were legion. Jens Lehmann shone precisely the wrong spotlight on the club. A separate outbreak in the camp of one of their opponents nearly forced the postponement of yet another match. Player after player had to be called up from the youth ranks as senior side members dropped out like flies.

Amid what must have been unimaginable stress, Germany's Charlottenburg football club clinched survival on the second-to-last matchday of the season. Injured stars Matheus Cunha and Sami Khedira watched from the stands, keeping a close eye on the Augsburg-Bremen match as the clock wound down in their own team's 15:30 kickoff.

The Hertha bench screamed at the players on the pitch when the fourth official announced two minutes of added time. One hundred and twenty seconds must have felt like an eternity for the XI that knew that Augsburg's second goal promised them survival so long as they could maintain the scoreline. Hang on they did. A woefully disappointed season that began with hopes of European qualification at least didn't end in disaster.

When Sky Germany reporters managed to cut through the throng of post-match celebrations on the pitch, they only got the tersest possible quotes. Keeper Alexander Schwolow couldn't quite process it yet. Defender Niklas Stark, who performed very well in 23 minutes of relief, promised himself a flute of champagne. For trainer Dardai, it was time to take the pressure off his crew.

"I'm very proud of my lads," the Hungarian head-coach said afterwards, "It was a difficult task. I'm appreciative of the fact that they rose to it. It's possible to love them again as we are a team."

All told, Hertha gained nine points from their five-match-run; a most impressive haul. Saturday's draw also extended their current unbeaten run to eight consecutive matches. With one more meaningless fixture to go, Dardai stressed that he wishes to preserve the streak anyway through the campaign's final day.

Hertha face Hoffenheim in seven days time. Dardai joked that the opportunity to spend a full week on match preparation was something that his players and staff had forgotten the feeling of. Cunha and Khedira made their way down to the sidelines afterwards after remaining linked arm-in-arm until the final whistle.

The duo presented their gaffer with a gift. A box of cigars found its way into Dardai's arms. The 45-year-old trainer told journalists afterwards that he would put off partaking until after the season concluded. The chance to relish a more leisurely paced training-week and end the campaign on a high note would come first.

"Soon I'll have nothing much else to do but smoke cigars," Dardai said.

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