Hamburg face play-off battle to save record as only ever-present side in Bundesliga


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The Independent Football

They are known as Dino, for dinosaur, because they are the only club to have been in the Bundesliga every season since Germany's national league began in 1963, but Hamburg's proud record could soon be extinct.

The 1983 European Cup-winners, who have Rafael van der Vaart as captain and many other internationals in their ranks, are embroiled in a two-leg play-off to maintain their top-flight status after finishing third from bottom in the Bundesliga. On Thursday they were held to a goalless draw at home, in front of 57,000 fans, by Greuther Fürth, who came third in Bundesliga 2. Tomorrow they travel to Fürth's 15,000-capacity Trolli Arena for a winner-takes-all second leg.

It is the culmination of a dreadful season for Hamburg which has involved three coaches including Bert van Marwijk, who took the Dutch to the 2010 World Cup final but lasted 143 days at the club before being fired, at a cost of £2.5m, in February after eight straight defeats.

Mirko Slomka, sacked by Hannover 96 in December, was entrusted with saving Hamburg, but they lost their last five matches and only avoided direct relegation because the teams below them, Nürnberg and Eintracht Braunschweig, fared little better.

Hamburg, with Johan Djourou, signed from Arsenal after a loan spell, and former Chelsea player Michael Mancienne in central defence, did at least keep their first clean sheet since February in the first leg. But Van der Vaart said: "We know we need to improve. We're staying positive, though. A club as great as this belongs in the Bundesliga."

History counts for nothing tomorrow, but Hamburg's is impressive. Founded in 1887 they are one of Germany's oldest clubs and have been continuously in the top flight since the resumption of football in 1919 after the First World War. When the regional leagues were replaced by the Bundesliga they were a founding club (unlike Bayern Munich) and have had 27 seasons in Europe. The highlight was the European Cup victory over Juventus, achieved with a long-range shot from Felix Magath, the current Fulham manager.

However, in recent years a series of poor management decisions, including a rapid turnover of coaches, has left the north German giant close to £100m in debt. Relegation would further add to financial woes which seem inexplicable given an average gate, even in this tortured season, in excess of 50,000.

Hamburg's dire form led to the Germany internationals René Adler, Heiko Westermann and Marcell Jansen all being omitted from Joachim Löw's World Cup squad this week, but one ray of hope is the return of striker Pierre-Michel Lasogga, whose form won him a call-up from Löw prior to his injury.

Greuther Fürth, a team from Bavaria, are seeking to bounce back immediately after relegation last season, their only campaign in the Bundesliga.

In Berlin, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund continue their rivalry in the German Cup final. Bayern will be without Bastian Schweinsteiger, who is injured, and Mario Mandzukic, who has been dropped. Mandzukic, a target for Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea, reportedly responded by heading back to Croatia.

Their opponents' attack will be led by Robert Lewandowski, who has shaken off a calf injury to play his last game for Dortmund before joining Bayern this summer.

Dortmund won the 2012 final 5-2, but Bayern won last year's Champions League final between the pair. Dortmund finished 19 points adrift of Bayern in the league, but won 3-0 in Munich last month.