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Sports

Mainz do enough against Hannover to maintain march up Bundesliga table

It will not go down as one of Mainz's best performances of the season, but it mattered little. The end result - a 2-0 win over Hannover - was what mattered most for Thomas Tuchel's men and their Europa League ambitions.

Yunus Malli's well-crafted opener and Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting's late sealer did the job for Mainz, who had fallen to a poor 3-0 loss last Saturday at Wolfsburg. Mainz's win over Hannover on Friday ensures last week's aberration is their only defeat in the Bundesliga since late November, with their superb form since then having now elevated them into seventh place on the table ahead of the rest of the weekend's matches.

Their heady rise up the Bundesliga table was not matched by a rather uninspiring first 45 minutes against Hannover, though the visitors themselves did little to improve a half that was long on industry but short on clear-cut chances.

The best opportunity of the half fell to Hannover's right midfielder Leonardo Bittencourt. Lorius Karius - one of three men to have been in goal for Mainz this season - rolled out a poorly directed ball that allowed Bittencourt to swoop. But presented with a one-on-one chance with the Mainz shot-stopper, Bittencourt failed to get a shot off as a desperate Karius claimed the ball back at his feet.

There was little else to get the pulse racing in the first half, but that changed almost immediately after the break.

Talented forward Nicolai Müller broke from deep on 50 minutes, waiting for the perfect moment to release the ball. His pass to split Andre Hoffman and Marcelo was as baffling for the Hannover defenders to contend with as it was precise. Attacking midfielder Malli had timed his run just as perfectly, and even a touch from Hannover goalkeeper Ron-Robert Zieler could not keep the shot out.

Half-time substitute Choupo-Moting threatened to extend Mainz's lead within 20 seconds of the restart, while Hannover schemer Szabolcs Huszti brought a sound save out of Karius at the other end soon after.

But with Hannover forwards Mame Diouf and Artjoms Rudnevs well down on the sort of form they had showed when the Bundesliga returned after the winter break, the visitors seldom looked like getting a goal back.

Zieler shines despite Hannover struggles

The damage could have been worse without Zieler in goal. He kept out Choupo-Moting on 68 minutes by coming out smartly, but he was helped by the Cameroon forward's poor final touch as he dashed into the area. Zieler tipped over a Niki Zimling drive in the 84th minute to keep his side in it, and Hannover could have even stolen a point had shots from Rudnevs and then Huszti not been well blocked by some desperate Mainz defense two minutes into extra time.

A tap-in from Choupo-Moting a minute later ended any Hannover hopes, leaving them to ponder a seven-point gap from their place in 10th to Augsburg in ninth.

Mainz, meanwhile, can still consider their European dream a reality, though forthcoming matches against Schalke and Bayer Leverkusen will be a major test to their ambitions.