Late goals over 120 minutes of nerve-jangling football have secured Hamburg's Bundesliga status for another season. With their 1-2 win over Karlsruhe the northern Germans protected their proud record in the top division.
Karlsruhe 1-2 Hamburg (Hamburg wins 3-2 on aggregate)
(Yabo 78' - Diaz 91', Müller 116')
Nicolai Müller's 116th minute winner has confirmed Hamburg's Bundesliga status for a 52nd season. The northern Germans, for the second successive season, have survived relegation by winning the two-legged relegation playoff against the 2. Bundesliga's third-placed club, Karlsruhe.
Until the 91st minute, Hamburg was staring relegation in the face with Reinhold Yabo firing into the net on 78 minutes to give the southwest German side a 2-1 advantage on aggregate. But Marcelo Diaz' wonderfully executed free kick leveled the scores and guaranteed another 30 minutes of extra football.
With just a few minutes left, and penalties looking inevitable, former Mainz midfielder Müller bagged the vital goal for coach Bruno Labbadia's men to safeguard the club's proud record of never suffering relegation in the Bundesliga's 52-year history.
That looked under threat after the first leg as Karlsruhe held the advantage following a 1-1 tie in Hamburg. The home side started on the back foot and looked cautious in possession, allowing Labbadia's side to dictate most of the opening 45 minutes.
Ivica Olic was included in the starting team, just days after being discharged from hospital after an allergic reaction last week. He was typically driven and determined, but found himself isolated out in a wide position. In the fifth minute, his low shot was as threatening as Hamburg looked for most of the half.
Alive with the final breath
With the tension palpable at the Wildpark Stadium, both sides were guilty of committing mistakes in dangerous positions, leading to a stack of great chances to steal the glory. On 51 minutes, a poorly-defended corner kick fell directly to Pierre-Michel Lasogga who blazed over the crossbar from 12 yards.
After an hour, however, Karlsruhe had a chance to kill the tie and Hamburg's hopes of a comeback. Enrico Valentini's cross found Dima Nazarov at the back post, but the striker's finish was skewed away from the target. The next move saw Valentini again deliver a fantastic cross into the box, but Daniel Gordon was an inch or two away from scoring.
Hamburg pressed for the goal to keep them in the Bundesliga and Lasogga was denied by a great save from keeper Dirk Orlishausen on 76 minutes. Two minutes later, hope seemed to be extinguished - substitute Yabo tucking home from close range to send the Karlsruhe fans into a frenzy.
But before long, Hamburg's powerful surge towards goal forced the issue - Lasogga, Diekmeier and Johan Djourou's two efforts were cleared with some last-ditch defending from the hosts. In the first minute of added time, Diaz clipped a sweet free kick from 20 yards into the top corner and send the game dramatically into extra-time.
The second division side had the better of the chances as they headed for a 120-minute marathon of playoff action. Nazarov was closest for Karlsruhe, curling a shot from the corner of the box wide of Rene Adler's post on 102 minutes.
But Labbadia's side saved their best passage of football for the final few minutes: Zoltan Stieber slalomed past a few Karlsruhe defenders, the cross was inch-perfect from Cleber Reis and Müller's well-timed run was rewarded in a second goal.
Adler saved a later penalty from Rouwen Hennings to let the celebrations commence in Karlsruhe - and in Hamburg where more than 10,000 supporters watched inside the Imtech Arena, where the club's Bundesliga clock will continue to count the minutes for yet another year.