Reigning champs Werder Bremen had lost to Schalke and Bayern Munich in the second leg. To keep alive the dream of a title repeat, a victory was necessary against their nearest rivals Stuttgart. Instead, they lost 2-1.
Bremen's Ernst, white, looks sharp but his side was clumsy in 2-1 loss
A disastrous second half and the failure to capitalize on some first-half chances just may have buried Werder Bremen's aspirations to repeat as Bundesliga champions this season. Thomas Schaaf's side had to beat VfB, but after conceding the game-winning goal in the 87th minute, the northern Germans now must be very concerned about making it to the Champions League next season.
The turning point may well have been a very sloppy foul committed by Valerien Ismael in the 84th minute. In a relatively harmless situation, Bremen's defensive anchorman slid into Stranzl and he saw his second yellow card. Three minutes later, Stuttgart took advantage of a disorganized Bremen defense.
Bremen's soccer player Frank Fahrenhorst, right, and Stuttgart's player Kevin Kuranyi challenge for the ball. Kuranyi has not scored for Stuttgart since the 20th game
VfB's star midfielder Aleksander Hleb found striker Kevin Kuranyi alone in the penalty box. He unleashed a shot that Werder keeper Reinke could save but Christian Tiffert gathered the loose ball, evaded a reeling Reinke and deposited the ball into the empty net. It likened the death toll for Bremen's championship hopes.
Bremen came tantalizingly close to getting the equalizer two minutes later but Stuttgart's goalie Timo Hildebrand saved a header on the line that was bound for the net.
First half yawner, second half goals
The 42,000 fans in Weser Stadium were witness to some unappetizing soccer in the first half. Stuttgart circled the wagons in their own end and ventured only a few times into the Bremen half. The hosts for their part missed a couple of high percentage chances in the first 15 minutes and most every player knows the price that is paid when you don't score on such occasions.
"We had the chances in the first half," goalkeeper Andreas Reinke told TV broadcaster Premiere, "but we didn't score."
Bremen's Tim Borowski and Christian Schulz fight for the ball with Stuttgart's Christian Tiffert, from left. Tiffert would score the winning goal just minutes before the final whistle
Stuttgart did -- in the second half. Matthias Sammer's side came out of the locker room and opened the scoring in the 48th minute. On a corner kick, the Bremen defense, normally solidly dependable and the second-best in the league, was asleep. Tim Borowski let his man, Silvio Meissner, slip in front of him and the veteran midfielder sank the ball into the net.
Bremen didn't take long to respond. Just four minutes after falling behind, Bremen's star Croatian striker Ivan Klasnic beat the Stuttgart offside trap, took a pass from Daniel Jensen inside the box and squeezed the ball between a charging Hildebrand and the right goalpost.
Stuttgart keep up with leaders
The three points for Stuttgart mean that they stay within shouting distance of the Bundesliga's top teams, Bayern Munich and Schalke 04, who both won. Matthias Sammer's boys can stir things up in the title chase next week. They face Schalke. Bremen for their part have to look behind them some. They lie in fourth place on 47 points but two of their pursuers, Hamburg and Leverkusen stumbled with a draw and a loss respectively. Next week, Hamburg and Bremen meet in a northern derby.