It will certainly be a tense night in Heidenheim, on Monday, when the Bundesliga 2 team hosts first division SV Werder Bremen in the second leg of their relegation / promotion.
1. FC Heidenheim 1846 hopes to reach the elite level of German football for the first time, which would be a big enough story without it coming at the expense of four-time Bundesliga champion.
Bremen were relegated once – in 1979/80 – but recovered on the first try and have since spent 40 years in the top flight. That status is now very threatened, however, with a draw after last Thursday's first leg in Bremen.
The match ended 0-0, with the visitors stifling their most distinguished opponents
and even getting close to gaining a valuable advantage. Shortly after captain Niklas Moisander received a red card, Heidenheim defender Timo Beermann headed from outside the corner when he was injured.
"Of course we would have liked to have scored a goal," said the Heidenheim coach.
Frank Schmidt said later. "But we got a result that gives us an additional belief that we can cause a great feeling at home."
The coach who served the most in Germany's two main divisions, Schmidt has already done wonders at the club where he ended his playing career. Since taking charge in 2007, the 46-year-old has led the underdogs in this play-off to three promotions.
This year is the closest that Heidenheim has reached the first division since the three years. League champions – ahead of RB Leipzig – in 2013/14. The 14 goals of former SC Freibrug striker Tim Kleindienst this season helped them reach the highest level ever
placing – third – in the Bundesliga 2.
Now they want to emulate 1. FC Union Berlin – who reached the top flight for the first time after beating VfB Stuttgart in last year's play-off – by becoming the 57th club to participate in the Bundesliga.
Bremen, on the other hand, hope to make the most of their second chance. Die Grün-Weißen seemed certain to be relegated automatically, but two big wins – 5-1 at SC Paderborn 07 and then 6-1 at home against 1. FC Cologne on the last day – saw them move up to third place in the Bundesliga .
Florian Kohfeldt's team would be confident before the play-off, especially considering that they won 4-1 when they met Heidenheim in the second round of the DFB Cup in October.
Thursday's rematch was very different, however, and Kohfeldt knows his team needs to improve a "very bad game" in the first leg.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, there will be no spectators in Heidenheim, but – with or without fans in attendance – Bremen has been better on the road this season. Six of their eight league wins in 2019/20 have been on their travels, and a draw – by virtue of the away goal rule – is all they need on Monday.
"It's 0-0 at halftime," said Kohfeldt. "They didn't score an away goal. We have to make sure we score in Heidenheim – so the situation will be different for us.”
If Heidenheim is denied the success of a fairy tale, a hero will have to perform in Bremen. Could it be young US international Josh Sargent? Or is it a club legend that is likely to start on the bench?
Peruvian veteran Claudio Pizarro is due to end his career at Bremen on Monday. The 41-year-old has scored 109 goals in four different periods with the Whites. Could he save the day one last time?
Statistics and facts: Heidenheim vs Bremen
* 1 FC Heidenheim has held 17 free games so far in the 37 matches played this season.
* After scoring six in the last matchday against 1. FC Köln, SV Werder Bremen was stopped by Heidenheim, with the home team just scoring a shot on goal.
* Niklas Moisander received the third red card of his career at Bremen (after a second recordable offense) and will therefore lose the second leg at Heidenheim.
* Kevin Sessa, 19, debuted at Heidenheim in the club's biggest game to date, making only his third appearance at the club.
* Heidenheim coach Frank Schmidt is the oldest coach in Germany's two main divisions, taking charge in September 2007.
* Heidenheim midfielder Niklas Dorsch graduated from the FC Bayern München academy and even made a first appearance on Germany's most decorated team, starting (and scoring) in a 4-1 victory over Eintracht Frankfurt in 32nd round of the 2017/18 season.
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