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Showdown with fans leads to chaos in Germany

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BERLIN — The German soccer federation’s power struggle with fans escalated dramatically over the weekend when Bundesliga games were interrupted by protests with the threat of being called off.

[ MORE: Bundesliga schedule  ] 

Fans at several games unfurled banners with criticism of the federation and crude massages for Hoffenheim backer Dietmar Hopp, leading to stadium announcements against the abuse and referees leading teams off the field.

Bayern Munich’s game at Hoffenheim on Saturday ended with the teams passing the ball back and forth in midfield for the last 13 minutes, while Hopp and Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge applauded from the sidelines and the Hoffenheim fans applauded from the stands.

Bayern was already leading 6-0 but no more soccer was played after some of the traveling support had insulted Hopp.

“It’s the hateful face of soccer,” said Rummenigge, one among a host of club officials condemning the abuse.

There were hold-ups, too, at Dortmund’s game against Freiburg, where both sets of supporters displayed banners criticizing the federation, and again on Sunday when Union Berlin fans unfurled banners first accusing the federation of taking “two steps back,” then insulting Hopp while displaying his face behind a cross-hairs. There were similar insults from Borussia Mönchengladbach fans the previous weekend.

Referees were instructed to use FIFA’s three-step procedure for dealing with the abuse, a measure originally developed for combating racism. It almost led to the abandonment of the games in Berlin and Hoffenheim after referees went to Step 2.

The protests were sparked by the federation’s decision on Feb. 21 to ban all Dortmund fans from Hoffenheim’s stadium for two years because of their repeated chants against Hopp.

The 79-year-old billionaire has been a target since Hoffenheim was promoted to the Bundesliga in 2008. Previously in the fifth division, Hoffenheim’s ascent through the leagues was made possible thanks to steep investment from its former youth player, a co-founder of software giant SAP.

Rival fans resent Hoffenheim’s ascent at the expense of another team without a billionaire backer. They also object to Hopp’s opposition to the league’s 50-plus-1 rule, which protects clubs from takeovers by a majority stakeholder. Hopp was granted an exception in 2015 because of his long support of the club.

Hoffenheim has hit back against the abuse. At least 33 Dortmund fans were identified and banned from its stadium in 2018 because of abuse leveled at Hopp the previous season. A club employee also used a high-frequency sound system to drown out Dortmund chants in 2011.

The latest league-wide protests are about more than just Hopp, however. Fans have pointedly accused the federation of reneging on in its 2017 promise to end the “collective punishment” for supporters for misdemeanors after making its sanction against every Dortmund fan.

There are other gripes, too. Monday night games have been scrapped from next season because of repeated fan protests. There has been an ongoing struggle over pyrotechnics at games, banned by the federation, but considered a vital part of game-day experience by many supporters.

Bayern fans have been critical about their own club’s sponsorship links to Qatar, and have campaigned, like others, against issues like homophobia, sexism, anti-Semitism and racism.

The Bayern fans who insulted Hopp at Hoffenheim on Saturday issued a statement the following day.

“It is hardly surprising that the (federation) allows itself be influenced by a patron and breaks its promises to refrain from collective penalties,” fan group Südkurve München wrote on their website. “What is significantly more frightening is the accomplishment of Hopp’s 10-year-old demand for criticism of himself and ‘his’ club to be equated with racial discrimination and punished accordingly. On one hand this leads to the trivialization and ridicule of actual racial abuse and violence, and on the other it illustrates the blatant failure of the federation after such incidents.”

The federation’s strong response to the insults against Hopp has left it open to accusations of hypocrisy. Hertha Berlin player Jordan Torunarigha was subjected to racist abuse during a German Cup game at Schalke on Feb. 4, but the monkey chants went unnoticed by the referee and the defender was sent off in extra time for a reaction after getting increasingly upset.

Others pointed to the federation’s treatment of billionaire Schalke chairman Clemens Tönnies, who faced no sanction from the league after making racist comments about Africans at a public meeting last August.

Schalke said Sunday that its team would immediately leave the field if there were any defamatory chants made or banners shown during Bayern’s German Cup visit on Tuesday, or Hoffenheim’s visit in the league on Saturday.

BAG, an organization representing fans, criticized the federation for not using the same three-point measures for “any incident of racism, sexism or the like,” and it warned of a “dead end” in the relationship between the federation and fans.

Berlin’s Der Tagesspiegel newspaper referred to Rummenigge’s “hateful face of soccer” comment, saying that it would be more appropriate when applied to workers building World Cup stadiums and dying in Qatar, or to soccer officials hiding away millions in taxes.

On a weekend when Bayern won 6-0 and opened a three-point lead in the Bundesliga, no one was talking about the soccer played.

Bundesliga: Dortmund title hopes take a hit with loss to Hoffenheim

Photo by Tom Weller/picture alliance via Getty Images
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BERLIN (AP) Borussia Dortmund let a lead slip for the second consecutive game as Hoffenheim scored two late goals to win 2-1 in the Bundesliga on Friday.

Dortmund, which twice dropped a lead in allowing Leipzig to draw 3-3 on Tuesday, was again left to rue mistakes after Mario Gotze gave the visitors an early lead.

Sargis Adamyan equalized in the 79th minute and set up Andrej Kramaric for the winner in the 87th.

It was the ninth game from 17 so far in which Dortmund has dropped points, and it will cast a shadow over Lucien Favre’s team as it goes into the Bundesliga’s winter break.

Dortmund, which had declared a title challenge before the season, remained fourth, four points off the lead having played a game more and with the prospect of being overtaken by bitter rival Schalke on Saturday.

“We really needed three points here,” Dortmund midfielder Julian Weigl said. “We’re bitterly disappointed.”

Gotze made the most of his rare start with the opening goal in the 17th. Much of it was down to Achraf Hakimi, who outpaced a Hoffenheim defender to reach Thorgan Hazard‘s through ball and cut it back for Gotze. Sebastian Rudy’s attempt to clear off the line came too late.

Robert Skov struck the crossbar with a free kick in the closest Hoffenheim came in the first half.

Dortmund missed a number of chances but seemed to have the game under control until it paid the price for becoming increasingly passive late on.

Bundesliga wrap: Five-way tie at the top as Bayern, others drop points

Photo by A. Beier/Getty Images for FC Bayern
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All the big boys failed in bids to get three points on Saturday, including a loss from the leaders of the Bundesliga.

That means five teams sit level on 14 points with 4W-2D-1L records, and that there’s only one unbeaten team in the league in 3W-3D Wolfsburg.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Borussia Monchengladbach can go atop the league with a win over Augsburg on Sunday. Failing that, Wolfsburg can go top with a defeat of Union Berlin.

Bayern Munich 1-2 Hoffenheim

Robert Lewandowski scored again, because of course he did, but the leaders couldn’t drag any of the seven goals they scored against Tottenham at midweek back to Germany.

Sargis Adamyan scored his first two Bundesliga goals, both in the second half, as Hoffenheim claimed a big one at the Allianz Arena.

Elsewhere

Hertha Berlin 3-1 Fortuna Dusseldorf — Friday
Freiburg 2-2 Borussia Dortmund
Bayer Leverkusen 1-1 RB Leipzig
Paderborn 1-2 Mainz
Schalke 1-1 Koln
Borussia Monchengladbach v. Augsburg — 7:30 a.m. ET Sunday
Wolfsburg v. Union Berlin — 9:30 a.m. ET Sunday
Eintracht Frankfurt v. Werder Bremen — Noon ET Sunday

STANDINGS

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Bayern Munich 7 4 2 1 20 8 12 2-1-1 2-1-0 14
 RB Leipzig 7 4 2 1 15 7 8 1-1-1 3-1-0 14
 SC Freiburg 7 4 2 1 15 7 8 1-2-1 3-0-0 14
 FC Schalke 04 7 4 2 1 14 7 7 2-1-1 2-1-0 14
 Bayer Leverkusen 7 4 2 1 12 8 4 2-2-0 2-0-1 14
 Mönchengladbach 6 4 1 1 10 5 5 1-1-1 3-0-0 13
 Borussia Dortmund 7 3 3 1 19 11 8 2-1-0 1-2-1 12
 VfL Wolfsburg 6 3 3 0 9 4 5 1-2-0 2-1-0 12
 Eintracht Frankfurt 6 3 1 2 9 8 1 2-1-0 1-0-2 10
 Hertha BSC Berlin 7 3 1 3 12 12 0 2-0-1 1-1-2 10
 1899 Hoffenheim 7 2 2 3 6 11 -5 1-0-2 1-2-1 8
 Werder Bremen 6 2 1 3 10 14 -4 1-0-2 1-1-1 7
 FSV Mainz 05 7 2 0 5 7 17 -10 1-0-2 1-0-3 6
 FC Augsburg 6 1 2 3 7 14 -7 1-1-1 0-1-2 5
 Fortuna Düsseldorf 7 1 1 5 9 14 -5 0-1-2 1-0-3 4
 1. FC Union Berlin 6 1 1 4 6 12 -6 1-0-3 0-1-1 4
 1. FC Köln 7 1 1 5 5 16 -11 0-0-3 1-1-2 4
 SC Paderborn 7 0 1 6 9 19 -10 0-0-4 0-1-2 1

Wolfsburg draws 1-1 to stay unbeaten in Bundesliga

RONNY HARTMANN/AFP/Getty Images
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WOLFSBURG, Germany (AP) Wolfsburg maintained its unbeaten start to the Bundesliga with a 1-1 draw against Hoffenheim on Monday.

Sebastian Rudy scored his first goal for Hoffenheim since returning from Schalke to put the visitors ahead in the sixth minute, but Wout Weghorst set up Admir Mehmedi with a backheel for the equalizer in the 36th.

[ MORE: Messi win’s men’s honor, Man City shut out ]

It was Wolfsburg’s third consecutive 1-1 draw, dropping the side to eighth after five rounds, while Hoffenheim moved into 11th with five points.

Unbeaten Leipzig leads with 13 points after a 3-0 win at Werder Bremen on Saturday, while Bayern Munich is two points behind after its 4-0 win over Cologne. Borussia Dortmund is three points off the lead after a 2-2 draw at Eintracht Frankfurt on Sunday.

STANDINGS

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 RB Leipzig 5 4 1 0 13 3 10 1-1-0 3-0-0 13
 Bayern Munich 5 3 2 0 16 4 12 2-1-0 1-1-0 11
 Borussia Dortmund 5 3 1 1 15 7 8 2-0-0 1-1-1 10
 SC Freiburg 5 3 1 1 11 4 7 1-1-1 2-0-0 10
 FC Schalke 04 5 3 1 1 10 5 5 2-0-1 1-1-0 10
 Mönchengladbach 5 3 1 1 7 5 2 1-1-1 2-0-0 10
 Bayer Leverkusen 5 3 1 1 8 7 1 2-1-0 1-0-1 10
 VfL Wolfsburg 5 2 3 0 8 4 4 1-2-0 1-1-0 9
 Eintracht Frankfurt 5 2 1 2 7 7 0 2-1-0 0-0-2 7
 Werder Bremen 5 2 0 3 8 12 -4 1-0-2 1-0-1 6
 1899 Hoffenheim 5 1 2 2 4 7 -3 1-0-1 0-2-1 5
 FC Augsburg 5 1 2 2 7 11 -4 1-1-0 0-1-2 5
 Fortuna Düsseldorf 5 1 1 3 7 9 -2 0-1-1 1-0-2 4
 1. FC Union Berlin 5 1 1 3 5 10 -5 1-0-2 0-1-1 4
 Hertha BSC Berlin 5 1 1 3 5 11 -6 1-0-1 0-1-2 4
 1. FC Köln 5 1 0 4 4 11 -7 0-0-2 1-0-2 3
 FSV Mainz 05 5 1 0 4 5 15 -10 1-0-1 0-0-3 3
 SC Paderborn 5 0 1 4 6 14 -8 0-0-2 0-1-2 1

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Exactly who is Newcastle’s new $50M striker?

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Newcastle United’s club record signing of Joelinton is raising plenty of eyebrows, as fans try to grasp what they have in the $50 million Brazilian.

Suffice it to say that there isn’t an easy comparison.

The soon-to-be 23-year-old scored seven goals with five assists in Bundesliga play for Hoffenheim last season, adding four and two from Champions League and German Cup play.

[ MORE: Man Utd chase Pepe, Fernandes ]

He’s a unit, to be sure, at 6-foot-1 with tremendous leaping ability and a powerful stride. Joelinton certainly has the ability to dominate in the air and hold the ball up like Newcastle’s loan star Salomon Rondon in 2018-19, but he brings better passing than most center forwards.

There’s a temptation to compare him to Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino, another Premier League import from Brazil via Hoffenheim, as Joe Prince-Wright wrote in his morning post about the impending deal.

Firmino was on another level in 2014-15, coming off a remarkably complete seasons for a center forward. He also shoots more often than Joelinton.

What Newcastle supporters will like from Joelinton, what makes him unique for his size, is that he’s a tremendous dribbler. He has trickery to go with his pace, not strictly a locomotive.

His season didn’t have the goals, the Toon will hope, because he was supplying wingers Andrej Kramaric (17 goals) and Ishak Belfodil (16). That could be music to the ears of Miguel Almiron and… whoever else Steve Bruce has to deploy (Yoshinori Muto? Jacob Murphy?).

Joelinton also played less than minutes than the following three comparables: West Ham import Sebastien Haller, Watford target Ismalia Sarr, and Wolves star Raul Jimenez.

Will he be worth the spend? The six-year deal promises profit potential — something Mike Ashley and chief scout Graham Carr are clearly targeting — if he explodes and earns the admiration of bigger sides. As for now, he should be able to provide what Rondon did in 2018-19.