Hoffenheim faces Bayern test

The title credentials of surprise German league leaders Hoffenheim will face their sternest examination yet on Friday when the village side travel to the home of reigning champions Bayern Munich.

Hoffenheim faces Bayern test
Vedad Ibisevic shoots for Hoffenheim in a file photo. Photo: DPA

Bankrolled by local businessman Dietmar Hopp, Hoffenheim have risen from the depths of Germany’s amateur leagues and currently top the table by three points from Bayern after 15 games.

Key to their impressive start to life in their first season in Germany’s top flight has been the form of Bosnian striker Vedad Ibisevic, who tops the Bundesliga scoring charts with 17 goals.

The 24-year-old’s prolific form in front of goal has led to speculation linking him with a move away from the club, but he insists he has no intention of leaving.

“All that (speculation) makes me proud, but next season I’ll still be wearing the Hoffenheim shirt,” he said.

As for his opponents on Friday, Ibisevic refuses to be cowed by their reputation.

“We can beat Bayern”, he asserts with confidence. “We’re not going to Munich just to visit their stadium.”

The Bayern side that confronts Ibsevic and his team-mates will be a very different side to the one that limped into action at the beginning of the season.

New coach Jürgen Klinsmann was swept into the Bayern hotseat on a tide of optimism after taking Germany to the 2006 World Cup semi-finals, but a return of just two wins in his first seven league games suggested all was not well at the Allianz Arena.

Bayern’s inauspicious start to the season included a humiliating 5-2 home defeat at the hands of Werder Bremen, but since influential midfielder Franck Ribery returned to the side their form has improved dramatically.

The Frenchman was in inspirational form as the Bavarian giants surged to the title last season, but missed the opening weeks of this campaign with an ankle injury sustained at Euro 2008.

Bayern have recorded seven wins in 10 league games since his return at the end of September.

Ribery, meanwhile, is relishing the prospect of taking on Hoffenheim in front of a 69,000 sell-out.

“The whole of Germany is waiting for this one,” he said. “I just hope we can win it.”

Bayer Leverkusen led the table from Hoffenheim until the end of November when consecutive defeats at Arminia Bielefeld and at home to Bayern saw them slip to fourth.

Leverkusen travel to Borussia Mönchengladbach on Saturday to face a side sitting second from bottom and with the worst defensive record in the division.

A late Marko Pantelic header earned Hertha Berlin a 2-1 win at home to Cologne last weekend that took them up to third in the table.

They travel to Schalke 04 on Saturday, while last season’s runners-up Werder Bremen – who thrashed Eintracht Frankfurt 5-0 last Saturday – will look to plunder another hatful at basement club Karlsruhe.

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EXPLAINED: The Covid rules for attending German football matches

The German Bundesliga kicks off on Friday evening with a match in Mönchengladbach. Here's a run-down of the Covid rules for football fans itching to join the crowds at the stadium.

EXPLAINED: The Covid rules for attending German football matches
Crowds cheer at a match between FC Kaiserslautern and Borussia Mönchengladbach, on August 9th, 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Uwe Anspach

All eyes will be on Mönchengladbach this evening as the Bundesliga season kicks off with a match against reigning champions Bayern Munich – and this time, a crowd will be present in the stadium.

READ ALSO: German football fans get green light to return to stadiums next season

With several states liberalising their rules for public gatherings in recent months, many football fans are looking forward to enjoying a lively atmosphere at football matches once more. 

There’s just one problem: there are different rules for different stadiums. Here’s what you need to know about the Covid rules before you book your ticket for any of the upcoming fixtures. 

How many fans are allowed in the stadiums? 

According to a recent decision by the federal and state governments, football stadiums around the country are allowed to fill half of their seats and sell up to 25,000 tickets to fans. 

Of course, how much this limit affects the overall atmosphere – and the football clubs’ bottoms lines – depends on the capacity of the stadium. In Borussia Dortmund this weekend, the full 25,000 tickets have been sold – but that only equates to 30 percent of the stadium’s full capacity.

READ ALSO: German football: Which Bundesliga club should I support?

Meanwhile, in the stadium owned by Berlin’s FC Union, selling just 11,000 tickets is enough to fill half of the available seats. 

What do I need to show to get in? 

That really depends on the stadium in question, although in general anyone over the age of six will need to show a negative test or proof of vaccination or recovery – the so-called ‘3G’ rule – to enter the grounds. But other clubs, such as FC Cologne, have decided to only permit people who are vaccinated or recovered to attend matches from August 28th onwards – with exceptions for people who can’t get vaccinated, like children and pregnant woman.

At Mönchengladbach’s Borussia Park stadium, however, unvaccinated fans can enter with a negative test, though visitors who’ve stayed in a high-risk or virus variant area over the past two weeks will be unable to enter – along with people who’ve had recent contact with someone who has Covid. 

If you want to see action like this at FC Cologne’s stadium, you’ll need to get your Covid jabs sorted first. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Robert Michael

Meanwhile, Borussia Dortmund has taken a middle ground. While the 3G rule applies in principle, only 1,000 of the available 25,000 tickets will be sold to people who are providing a negative test. The remaining 24,000 seats will only be available for those who are vaccinated against – or recently recovered from – Covid. 

If you’re not vaccinated and are keen to see a match, it’s worth checking on your local club’s website beforehand or sending them an email to double-check whether you will be allowed in. 

What else do I need to know about? 

You’ll need to bring a FPP2 mask with you to matches to wear in your seat and while heading to the bathroom or bar, and also observe social distancing rules – meaning staying 1.5 metres apart from your fellow fans.

In most states, you’ll also need to provide your contact details, which will be saved by the club and potentially passed on to local health authorities in order to monitor a potential Covid outbreak. 

Will these rules continue throughout the season?

That’s still an open question. If infection rates in Germany continue to rise or high-profile superspreading events occur at future matches, the government could potentially crack down further on sports events in autumn.

This could involve limiting the seat numbers even further, or (more controversially), introducing a ‘vaccinated-only’ rule for entering stadiums. 

READ ALSO: Should Germany bring in Covid restrictions for unvaccinated people only?

A recent outbreak of Covid in the Mainz football team has also dampened celebrations slightly in the run-up to the start of the Bundesliga – leaving club owners urgently calling for both fans and footballers to get vaccinated. 

Speaking to WDR ahead of the season’s start, FC Cologne’s managing director Alexander Wehrle said widespread vaccination was the best route back to normality – a message reiterated by Bayern Munich coach Julian Nagelsmann.