Hoffenheim have retained their place in the Bundesliga top flight with a 2-1 win in their playoff at Kaiserslautern. Despite a lot of heart, the home side simply didn't have the ideas to overhaul a first-leg deficit.
Kaiserslautern, aware of the task before them, started with real purpose, hoping the twelfth man of the crowd at the Fritz Walter Stadium - also known as the Betze - might just help them turn things around.
Having lost 3-1 away in the first leg of the relegation-promotion playoff, the home side were unrelenting as they powered forward, forcing some rough challenges from the top-flight side. Hoffenheim's Stefan Thesker was booked, and his teammate Eugen Polanski was lucky not to be.
Kaiserslautern, hoping to really shake things up with just one goal, did everything in their power to break though a sturdy looking Hoffenheim - Alexander Baumjohann was especially promising.
Hoffenheim simply soaked it up. Passes went awry from both sides but Hoffenheim's forays forward - especially through Kevin Volland and Brazilian Roberto Firmino - looked more threatening than those of the second-tier side.
It seemed as though it would pay off when Volland was brought down by Kaiserslautern keeper Tobias Sippel on 27 minutes.
Sippel - who received only a yellow card – had a chance to redeem himself and did so with a terrific dive to the right that kept his side in it. Perhaps there was light at the end of the tunnel, after all.
On 44 minutes, though, it looked to be an oncoming train. On the end of Hoffenheim free kick from the left, Salihovic nodded the ball down. Sippel cupped the ball upwards to bounce down off the crossbar, only for David Abraham to ensure the goal with a header at point-blank range which put Hoffenheim 1-0 up at the break.
Not deflated, Kaiserslautern started the second half in much the same vein as the first, full of heart but lacking creativity. Volland looked as though he might bury the home side for good for a moment, but, in a one-on-one with Sippel, the keeper again made the crucial stop.
Running out of ideas, Kaiserslautern had to make the most of any opportunity they could. One came in the form of a free kick that Baumjohann exploited exquisitely on 65 minutes, smashing past the wall to level the scores, leaving Belgian keeper Koen Casteels with no chance.
No giving up, not yet
But any thoughts that this could not possibly have been more than a consolation goal were not in the heads of the home side. Another of their efforts, with Mohammadou Idrissou heading in from a free kick, was ruled offside but still Kaiserslautern kept coming.
Hoffenheim, however, got back in the lead on 74 minutes when a corner from Sejad Salihovic found Jannik Vestergaard rising above the defense - heading the ball into the bottom left.
Even now, with the writing on the wall, the admirable home fans didn't lose heart. As the game drew to a close, ending 2-1 and 5-2 on aggregate, they still kept on singing.
"You can see from the fan reaction that we played well here," said Kaiserslautern coach Franco Foda. "We are disappointed that we failed to earn promotion. Now we have to focus on next season and add some more quality."
Hoffenheim coach Markus Gisdol praised the mental strength of his players. "We were very focused and prepared. We played a great match and didn't allow very much at all. I think we were the better team over the two matches," said Gisdol. "The team never lost the focus."
Hoffenheim now remain in the German top flight for a sixth consecutive term after making their debut in the 2008-09 season.