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Bundesliga: Cologne relegated; Hamburg win again, have life

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BERLIN (AP) Cologne was finally relegated from the Bundesliga on Saturday, and Hamburger SV boosted its chances of an unlikely escape with a 3-1 win at Wolfsburg.

Lucas Hoeler scored in injury time for Freiburg to beat Cologne 3-2 to leave the visitors eight points from safety with two games remaining.

“It was a difficult game, emblematic of the whole season,” Cologne coach Stefan Ruthenbeck said. “The last goal cannot happen so easily in a relegation battle. That’s exactly how you get relegated.”

Cologne had shown signs of life in recent games but it was too little, too late after losing 13 of its opening 16 games. The first of its five wins came at the 17th attempt.

Goalkeeper Timo Horn, who saved a penalty from Freiburg’s Christian Guenter, and captain Jonas Hector both extended their contracts last week, signaling their intent to help the side return to the top flight under new coach Markus Anfang, who is joining from promotion-chasing Holstein Kiel.

Hamburg, the only side to have played every Bundesliga since the league’s formation in 1963, has had several near misses with relegation in recent years.

Known as “der Dino” for its longevity, Hamburg is playing its worst season yet, but its third win in four games closes the gap on Wolfsburg and survival to just two points with two games remaining.

Bobby Wood broke the deadlock from the penalty spot minutes before the break. It was the American striker’s first goal since the second round on Aug. 25.

Tatsuya Ito, who had been fouled for the penalty, then sent in a cross for Lewis Holtby to make it 2-0 in first-half injury time.

Josip Brekalo pulled one back with a harmless-looking free kick, but Luca Waldschmidt smashed home a rebound after Koen Casteels saved Filip Kostic’s penalty in injury time.

It was only Waldschmidt’s second goal for Hamburg. His first was against Wolfsburg on the final day last season to save Hamburg from the relegation playoff.

Cologne’s Hector extends contract despite likely relegation

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COLOGNE, Germany (AP) Germany defender Jonas Hector has shunned reported interest from Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund by extending his contract with Cologne – despite the club’s almost certain relegation from the Bundesliga.

Cologne, eight points from safety with three games remaining, says its 27-year-old captain has signed a two-year extension to 2023 instead of using a release clause in his contract.

Hector, who has been at the club since 2010, says, “It wouldn’t have been a problem to switch to another club after this season but it didn’t feel right for me. I belong to Cologne and want to tackle the new season with the team and the fans behind us.”

Cologne sporting director Armin Veh says Hector’s decision is, “a great signal for the team, the club and our fans.”

Cologne hopes of ‘miracle’ escape from relegation

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Cologne defender Dominic Maroh had tears in his eyes after the team defeated Bayer Leverkusen in the Rhine derby before the international break.

The emotion of a long, challenging season had finally reached the surface, prompted by the thought that a “miracle” escape from Bundesliga relegation was suddenly on.

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Maroh played a big part in his first start since November, winning challenges, clearing the ball and working diligently at the back against Leverkusen as Cologne’s fifth win in 27 games dragged the club off the bottom of the table for the first time since August.

“The corpse is still alive,” midfielder Leonardo Bittencourt said after the 2-0 victory, a win made sweeter as rivals Hamburger SV, Mainz, Wolfsburg and Freiburg all lost.

Ahead of its visit to Hoffenheim on Saturday, Cologne is five points adrift of the relegation playoff place with seven games remaining.

“It’s absolutely positive we’re no longer last,” coach Stefan Ruthenbeck said. “It’s a sign we’re still alive and allows us to keep dreaming of a miracle.”

It has been a remarkable turnaround. Cologne’s tally of two points from the opening 13 games was worse than Tasmania Berlin’s in 1965-66, the club that has had the worst campaign since the Bundesliga was formed in 1963.

Cologne was given little hope of survival when it went winless for 16 games at the start, losing 13 times.

Former coach Peter Stoeger and managing director Joerg Schmadtke both left. They joined when Cologne was in the second division in 2013, led the team to promotion a year later and then oversaw steady top-flight progress to finish 12th, ninth and fifth.

Cologne’s Europa League campaign has placed an additional burden on the squad while the sale of last season’s top-scorer Anthony Modeste was another blow.

But Ruthenbeck has sparked a big improvement, helped by the January signings of forward Simon Terodde and French midfielder Vincent Koziello. Terodde has scored five goals in nine games since his move from Stuttgart while the 22-year-old Koziello is now an automatic starter following his switch from Nice.

Cologne hasn’t always got the results its performances deserved and the team has also been on the wrong side of some borderline refereeing decisions.

Claudio Pizarro had a winning-goal ruled out in injury time against Hannover. Against Stuttgart earlier in the season, the side also had a late penalty denied before its opponents scored a stoppage-time winner.

Cologne’s fate is in its own hands. After meeting Hoffenheim, the side hosts third-from-bottom Mainz and its last game is against fourth-from-bottom Wolfsburg.

“It’s all the same against who, all the same where, whether away or in Cologne – we have to get points,” midfielder Marco Hoeger said.

Goalkeeper Timo Horn agreed.

“We have kept our chances alive. We have the momentum,” said Horn. “There’s a great buzz around us (from the fans) and that naturally reaches the team.

“But we’re still aware there’s a danger it can quickly go the other way. The whole season has been one of up and down feelings but the belief in the miracle is huge.”

Struggling Cologne parts company with Peter Stoeger as coach

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COLOGNE, Germany (AP) Struggling Cologne has parted ways with Peter Stoeger after failing to win any of its Bundesliga games this season.

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The club says Stoeger’s contract, which was due to run to June 2020, was terminated by mutual agreement and that under-19 coach Stefan Ruthenbeck will take over until the league’s winter break. Assistant coach Manfred Schmid is leaving as well.

Stoeger’s last game was Saturday’s 2-2 draw at Schalke, the side’s third point from 14 games. He appeared to say goodbye to his players, training staff and supporters afterward, going to fans in the stadium, taking his hat off and bowing to them before applauding.

Stoeger joined Cologne in 2013 when the side was still in the second division. The Austrian led it to promotion in his first season and oversaw steady progress in each of the subsequent seasons in the Bundesliga, culminating in fifth place and Europa League qualification last season.

However, injuries, bad luck and poor decisions have all had an effect this season, with the club also failing to make up for the summer departure of top-scorer Anthony Modeste. Modeste scored 25 goals in the Bundesliga last season.

Cologne has six goals in 14 games this season.

Arsenal finishes atop UEL group despite defeat to Cologne

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The Gunners didn’t take care of business on Thursday in Germany, but luckily they got some help from two of their other Group H counterparts.

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Cologne defeated Arsenal, 1-0, at the RheinEnergieStadion, but Red Star Belgrade and BATE Borisov ended in a scoreless draw to give Arsene Wenger‘s side the top spot in the group.

The difference on the day proved to be Sehrou Guirassy’s penalty kick, which came in the 62nd minute after he had been taken down by Matthieu Debuchy a moment prior.

Arsenal were forced back early on by the hosts, with Jhon Cordoba nearly breaking the deadlock inside the opening five minutes.

Meanwhile, the Gunners struggled to break down Cologne’s defense throughout the encounter, despite having an overwhelming amount of possession.

Arsenal will close out Group H play on Dec. 7 against BATE, while Cologne battles Red Star Belgrade for a shot at reaching the Round of 32.