Hamburg look to the future after last-gasp escape | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 21.05.2017
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Hamburg look to the future after last-gasp escape

Luca Waldschmidt's heroics mean the Bundesliga's only side never to be relegated will go into their 54th consecutive year in the top flight. Coach Markus Gisdol has offered a glimpse at his blueprint for the future.

Hamburg have stayed up. At the death. Again. On Saturday, the northern-German club with nine lives pulled off yet another last-gasp escape to maintain their record as the only club ever-present in Germany's top flight since it was founded in 1963.

In recent years, Hamburg have been in a constant state of instability. They have developed a habit of sacking coaches as soon as anything starts to go wrong, and many things have over the last few seasons. In two recent campaigns, the club had to survive the relegation playoff to avoid the drop.

However, there are signs that things are starting to change, and the club's heroic recent performances suggest something could be stirring at the Volksparkstadion under head coach Markus Gisdol.

Hamburg could hardly have faced a trickier rival in Saturday's survival showdown. Wolfsburg had beaten Hamburg in each of their last three Bundesliga matches in the Volksparkstadion, and the last time that HSV won a home game against Wolfsburg was all the way backin April 2007.

Howver, despite such troubling statistics, HSV Chairman Heribert Bruchhagen was confident ahead of the match, saying that the northern Germans "can and will do what it takes" to avoid a third relegation playoff in four years.

Wolfsburg will feel hard done by, considering they were probably the better team over 90 minutes. When Robin Knoche made it 1-0 for the visitors, it looked like this one would go the way all of the recent encounters between two sides have gone. The Wolves were playing positive, calm football and looked like adding to their lead. But one quick counter allowed Filip Kostic to capitalize and keep Hamburg in the game.

It was a tense second half, with Wolfsburg apparently in the driving seat. And then, out of the blue, the winner arrived. Luca Waldschmidt's 88th minute header secured another season of Bundesliga football for Hamburg, the 54th in a row. Wolfsburg are going to the playoff, where they will face the second division's third-best team, Braunschweig, to decide which of the two will be in the Bundesliga next season.

Track record

Even though the club needed to wait until the 88th minute of the final matchday to escape yet another relegation playoff, Hamburg fans have a positive outlook heading into next season.

In Bruchhagen, they have an executive at the helm with a track record of stabilizing problematic football clubs, in Gisdol, a relatively youthful and promising coach and a solid squad to build on.

Gisdol, appointed at the end of September with Hamburg rock bottom in the league, made his gratitude to Bruchhagen plain immediately after the final whistle.

"I have to thank him for the unbelievable support he has given me," the coach told the press conference. That kind of backing from management has been sorely absent of late.

Bruchhagen made a name for himself during his time as Eintracht Frankfurt chairman. Frankfurt were a club very much in turmoil back in 2003, and Bruchhagen's first task was providing the club with some stability, which he did rather successfully during his tenure on the banks of the River Main - and this is exactly what's expected of him on the Elbe.

Then there are the players. The side that drew 1-1 against Schalke on the penultimate matchday was Hamburg's youngest in three years, and the three substitutes that were introduced during the crucial relegation decider against Wolfsburg were 23 or younger.

Waldschmidt's winning goal came just a day after his 21st birthday. Talk about justifying the coach's faith.

With coach Gisdol talking about "writing a new chapter in the club's history" it very much looks like Hamburg are planning for the long term rather than just applying short-term fixes.

Whether those plans will bear fruit remains to be seen. After all, it's Hamburg, where there have been false dawns aplenty in recent years.

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