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High-flying Hoffenheim Entertain Hamburg at Home

Not long ago, 1899 Hoffenheim were campaigning in the German fifth division in front of a few dozen fans. Now the Bundesliga upstarts take on table-toppers Hamburg this weekend.

Hoffenheim players celebrate scoring

Hoffenheim has enjoyed a meteoric rise through German soccer ranks

On Sunday, a capacity crowd of 26,300 will be in the Carl-Benz-Stadion in Mannheim to see the club take on Bundesliga table-toppers SV Hamburg.

But what makes this match so remarkable is not that few Germans actually knew where Hoffenheim is before the start of this Bundesliga season.

Nor is that the small town has less than 4,000 inhabitants or that the team skipped from third division through to first division without abatement.

No. What makes the upcoming match so extra-ordinary is that it pits first against second.

Hamburg still pretty on 17 points, while the rookies have earned 16.

German football icon Franz Beckenbauer has said he believes Ralf Rangnick's Hoffenheim to be strong enough to challenge for a place in Europe.

"If they continue playing the way they have this season, there is no reason why they will not be able to maintain their challenge. They are a strong side and deserve to be where they are."

Hamburg players celebrate scoring

Hamburg will be looking to maintain its Bundesliga lead this weekend against Hoffenheim

The only team to have managed to win the league championship as a promoted team was Kaiserslautern in 1998, but Hoffenheim is hoping to follow suit.

Around the grounds

The other matches on Sunday see VfB Stuttgart at home to VfL Bochum, while an intriguing game takes place in Dortmund, where former Champions League winners Borussia Dortmund entertain Hertha Berlin.

Meanwhile, VfL Wolfsburg coach Felix Magath will be facing his former club when his men travel to Bavaria to meet Bayern Munich.

Defending champions Bayern, who sit disappointingly in 11th place with 12 points, are hoping that last week's victory against Karlsruhe and the midweek Champions League win over Fiorentina, are a signal of better things to come.

Manager Uli Hoeness certainly seems to think so. "Let me be fairly aggressive. I believe we will still become winter champions and then much of the criticism will fall away."

Another team looking to get back into the swing of things is Werder Bremen, which have scored 22 goals, more than any other team, but are simultaneously leaking goals at the back.

Bremen's Diego, center, challenges for the ball against Cottbus' Stanislaw Angelow, right, and Timo Rost, left

Werder will be looking to shore up its defense after letting in 19 goals so far this season

The 19 goals conceded by keeper Tim Wiese is more than any other Bundesliga keeper. On Saturday, Christian Vander will replace Wiese between the sticks for Werder after the latter was sidelined for two weeks with an injury.

Meanwhile, 65-year-old coach Hans Meyer will take charge of Borussia Moenchengladbach for the first time in his second stint at the club when they host Karlsruhe at home.

In other matches on Saturday, Schalke take on Arminia Bielefeld, while Energie Cottbus face Eintracht Frankfurt.

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