Hamburg face Fuerth with proud record at stake
Hamburg host Greuther Fuerth on Thursday in the first of a two-legged Bundesliga relegation play-off with their proud record of never being relegated from Germany's top flight at stake.
Hamburg are the last remaining side in Germany's top tier to have never gone down and a clock at their Imtech Arena stadium proudly displays how long they have spent in the Bundesliga.
But the 1983 European Cup winners have just 180 minutes to maintain their 50-year stay.
Having finished their wretched season 16th in the table, Hamburg will join Nuremberg and Eintracht Braunschweig in the second division if they fail to beat Fuerth.
Fuerth are bidding to come straight back up after a season in Germany's second tier, where they finished third in the table, and they host Sunday's return leg.
With reported debts of around 100 million euros (US$136.9m), Hamburg's billionaire investor Klaus-Michael Kuehne has had to pledge 10 million euros in order for the club to obtain their licence next season.
Relegation would further harm their struggling finances.
To compound their problems, Turkey international Hakan Calhanoglu, 20, has been linked to rivals Bayer Leverkusen, who face a play-off for a Champions League place next season.
With Leverkusen reported to have offered 12 million euros, both German daily Bild and the Hamburg's Morgenpost newspaper quoted his agent Bektas Demirtas as saying: "If he should change within Germany, then Leverkusen has the best cards.
"This is a club that plays European who wants him and is willing to pay an appropriate price."
Calhanoglu, whose contract runs till 2018 and has no exit clause in his deal should they go down, scored 11 goals from midfield this season and is a bright prospect in a struggling team.
He took to social media network Twitter to say his focus is purely on Fuerth: "I'll be giving my all for the two most important matches in the club's history."
But Dutch midfielder Rafael van der Vaart criticised the timing of Demirtas' comments.
"If an adviser says something like that two days before such an important game, then he is a bad adviser," said the Dutch playmaker.
"Everyone here has to understand that he must save the club."
Such is the interest in these two matches that Sunday's return match in Fuerth will be screened live to a public viewing area in the Hanseatic City with only 2,000 away tickets available for Hamburg fans.
As Hamburg's 76-year-old former Germany legend Uwe Seeler summed up: "It has often hurt to watch from the stands, but I assume that we have the upper hand against Fuerth and will stay up."
The next two games will tell.
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