Leverkusen leave blundering Nuremberg mired in drop zone

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Nuremberg’s defeat also boosted Hamburg SV’s survival hopes and VfB Stuttgart pulled away from danger by beating third-placed Schalke 04 3-1, helped by a brace from Martin Harnik.

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Leverkusen (54 points) leapt above VfL Wolfsburg (53) into fourth place which earns a place in the Champions League playoff while Schalke (58) are still on course to go straight into the group stage.

Nuremberg (26) stayed one off the bottom and Hamburg SV, the only ever-present team in the Bundesliga’s 51-year history, are one point and place above them in the relegation playoff spot. Stuttgart, 15th, opened a four-point gap on Hamburg.

Defender Spahic put Leverkusen ahead in the 16th minute when he met a loose ball and fired home from 30 metres.

Nuremberg were level within 10 minutes when Marvin Plattenhardt’s free kick, seemingly intended as a cross, evaded everyone and went straight into the net.

The hosts should have gone ahead early in the second half when Josip Drmic went clear on Bernd Leno who saved his effort and blocked the rebound from Hiroshi Kiyotake.

Almost immediately, Boenisch put Leverkusen back in front after Nuremberg defender Mike Frantz missed a chance to clear the ball.

Leverkusen’s third came after they cleared a Nuremberg corner and Son Heung-min ran from one penalty area to the other before laying the ball into the path of Spahic for a simple finish.

Son was also involved in the fourth as his shot was mishandled by goalkeeper Raphael Schaefer and, although it fell to Plattenhardt, the Leverkusen defender headed straight to Hilbert who gratefully converted the fourth.

The other game pitted Stuttgart coach Huub Stevens against the club at which he had two stints in charge.

Two goals from Austria forward Harnik and one from former Germany striker Cacau put Stuttgart three ahead in just under an hour before Adam Szalai reduced the arrears for Schalke.

(Reporting By Brian Homewood, editing by Ed Osmond)

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Carlton finally show guts needed for win

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Guts and determination; two words you would never use to describe the 2014 edition of Carlton until Sunday night.

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But how the worm turned at Etihad Stadium, where the Blues got home by 28 points and sang their song for the first time this AFL season thanks to the will to win as much as any football skills.

Carlton have become used to life without Chris Judd since February, but the 18.11 (119) to 13.13 (91) victory was something different altogether.

Judd loomed as the Blues’ saviour as he made a long-awaited return from pre-season achilles surgery.

Instead, the dual Brownlow medallist lasted six minutes and three possessions as the substitute, limping off with a hamstring injury late in the third quarter.

Ed Curnow finished the game on crutches, having crashed into a goal post in the final term and being unable to continue playing.

But despite being two men down on the bench, and Tom Bell nursing a finger injury, Carlton found a way to stop a spirited Bulldogs comeback.

“We didn’t have a lot left. I haven’t seen those (rotation) figures,” Blues coach Mick Malthouse said.

“To only have one interchange against a very good running football side, I thought it showed a lot of ‘g and d (guts and determination)’.

“We were mentally prepared and mentally strong.”

The Dogs challenged late and trailed by 18 points when Stewart Crameri kicked his fourth goal, the first of the final quarter being a showstopper from the 50m arc.

But Carlton responded, veteran Heath Scotland kicking the sealer and Crameri among the many to miss chances.

The frenzied Blues looked a completely different side to that which was embarrassed by Essendon and humiliated by Melbourne in their past two starts.

“A pretty strong footy club stood up for itself today,” Bulldogs coach Brendan McCartney said.

“A bit of composure (was needed).”

Malthouse insisted the week of turmoil and scrutiny had little impact on the club.

“The pressures are internal. When you’ve lost games, you have doubt,” he said.

The club’s leaders, having their credentials questioned throughout the week, stood up with captain Marc Murphy at the fore.

Murphy finished with 28 touches, 11 tackles and quite possibly three Brownlow votes.

Key forwards Jarrad Waite and Lachie Henderson combined for eight goals, while ruckman Robbie Warnock had his best game as a Blue according to Malthouse.

The Blues were superb at the blue-collar stuff, beating the Bulldogs in tackles (85-71) and contested possessions (150-134).

Confidence – the buzzword uttered by Malthouse, Murphy and Henderson throughout the week – was back.

Whether it be on the last line of defence or streaming through the middle of the ground, the Blues played on with reckless abandon and moved the ball swiftly with great reward.

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Sterling is the best young player in Europe, says Rodgers

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Sterling scored the opening goal with a wonderful strike in the fourth minute before turning provider for Luis Suarez to double the visitors advantage in the 11th minute.

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Sterling then capped a memorable display with a deflected finish after a mazy counter-attacking run and his performance had Rodgers purring.

“I think he’s the best young player in European football at the moment.” Rodgers told Sky Sports. “At 19 years of age I don’t see anyone better.

“His intelligence with the ball, his movement and obviously he’s been concentrating on his goals.

“His first goal was a wonderful strike. He’s just shifted it and got his shot off and to beat a goalkeeper of John Ruddy’s quality shows you the level of the strike.

“His pass for Luis’ (Suarez) goal was like a midfield player. A top pass and Luis guided it in really well so there’s an assist.

“His positioning for the counter attack when he broke away. He gets a little bit of luck on the deflection but his overall performance, he’s shown so much maturity. And as I’ve said, for me he’s the best young player in Europe at the moment.”

Liverpool started quickly and were 2-0 up before the Canaries had chance to take stock.

However, they were twice pegged back by a resilient Norwich team who are in the midst of their own battle to avoid relegation.

First Gary Hooper pulled a goal back to make it 2-1 and after Sterling’s second Robert Snodgrass nodded in to make it 3-2 as the Reds had to endure yet another nervy finish.

Rodgers side have now scored at least three goals in 20 of their 35 league games this year and the 41-year-old admitted his free-scoring side have their sights set on the 100 goal barrier.

“The most important thing was to get three points and also the performance level. We are on 96 goals now and our idea is to get 100 plus – that would be an incredible effort,” he said.

Liverpool are guaranteed a place in next season’s Champions League which, given their hopes at the start of the season, is testament to what a phenomenal job Rodgers has done irrelevant of whether they can win the title.

“The objective at the start of the season was to qualify for the Champions League – that was always going to be an incredible task but now we know we cannot finish lower than third.

“We will go into the next three games looking to perform well. We want to continue to fight and now look to Chelsea next week – where it will be an incredible atmosphere at Anfield.”

(Reporting By Tom Hayward, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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Pakistani TV host survives gun attack

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Unknown gunmen on motorbikes have opened fire at a prominent Pakistani television anchor on a busy road in the southern port city of Karachi, officials say.

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Hamid Mir, who hosts a popular talk show on Pakistan’s Geo News channel, was travelling to his office from the airport when his car came under attack, senior police official Peer Muhammad Shah said.

“Four gunmen riding on motorbikes started firing at the car near Karsaz (east of the city) when Mir’s car was passing through. He received three bullets in the lower parts of his body,” Shah said.

Karachi police chief Shahid Hayat confirmed the incident.

“Hamid Mir has received three bullets but the doctors told me that he is out of danger,” Hayat said.

Geo’s Islamabad bureau chief Rana Jawad said he had talked briefly to Mir on his mobile phone as he was under attack.

“I spoke to him briefly when he was escaping, he said they have shot him and now they were following him,” Jawad said.

“He has been shot thrice, in the pelvic (area), abdomen and thighs,” he added.

Mir has long been a critic of the country’s powerful intelligence agencies and military for their alleged role in the disappearance of thousands of people in the restive southwestern province of Baluchistan.

Amir Mir, brother of Hamid and also a journalist, accused the country’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency of responsibility for the attack, saying the wounded television anchor had felt threatened before the attack.

“He had told me that if anything happens to him, the ISI chief General Zaheer-ul-Islam would be responsible for it,” he said.

He blamed a “disgruntled faction of the army and ISI” for attempting to assassinate his brother.

“The ISI chief was not happy with him because he exposed their human rights abuses in Baluchistan, he said.

“The army and its powerful intelligence agency cannot bear criticism from journalists.”

He added the army disliked perceived attacks on the military’s role in politics.

Pakistan’s intelligence agencies have long been accused of harassing and threatening journalists.

Last year Hamid Mir survived an attack in Islamabad when a bomb planted under his car was defused before it could go off.

The journalist, who hosts a long-running talk show on Geo News, had also complained of receiving death threats from the country’s intelligence agency.

The army described the accusations as baseless in a statement via the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), the media wing of the armed forces, which said it “condemned the incident and demanded an independent enquiry”.

The statement added that “raising allegations against ISI or the head of ISI without any basis is highly regrettable and misleading”.

Last month Raza Rumi, a prominent television anchor known for his outspoken critical views of the Pakistani Taliban, survived a similar assassination attempt in Lahore.

Rumi’s driver died of the injuries he sustained.

Earlier in March, Pakistan announced it would set up a special commission to protect journalists and will include press freedom as part of peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban.

Rights groups have called Pakistan one of the most dangerous countries for journalists.

According to media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, seven reporters lost their lives in Pakistan last year.

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Vettel denies ignoring team orders

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World champion Sebastian Vettel has denied sparking another Red Bull team row after appearing to ignore an instruction during Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix.

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Vettel grumpily replied, “tough luck” when told to yield to team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, who was closing fast in fifth, after the first round of pitstops.

Ricciardo eventually passed two laps later and finished fourth, 21 seconds ahead of Vettel in fifth. Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton was the winner.

But despite his initial reaction, Vettel insisted he did give way to Ricciardo when he realised the Australian had more pace.

“I did move over,” Vettel told reporters.

“Initially I didn’t understand (the request) because we were on the same tyres.

“At that stage Daniel was on a different strategy so, yeah, I moved over. I could see more and more towards the end of the race that I just didn’t have the pace … In the end there was no point in holding him back.”

Ricciardo has been consistently quicker than Vettel this season in an unexpected challenge for the German, who has won the last four world titles but currently lies fifth in the standings.

Vettel’s initial response over the radio came when he was informed Ricciardo, who was on the same tyres, was behind only because he had pitted earlier.

Vettel has previously ignored orders, most famously when he overtook then team-mate Mark Webber to win the 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix despite being told to hold second position.

However, two weeks ago in Bahrain, he moved over without complaint for Ricciardo, who was on quicker, softer tyres.

Vettel’s version of events on Sunday was backed up by team boss Christian Horner, who said he’d done the right thing.

“Look, at that stage Seb was on the same tyres and he wants to race,” Horner said.

“But he was going through the tyres quicker so he’s obviously moved out of the way and let his team-mate through.”

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Favourites Ajax routed by Zwolle as violence mars Dutch final

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The game was stopped just after the start for an half hour as fireworks and smoke bombs damaged the pitch and set an advertising board alight.

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Police said 19 people were arrested before kick-off for carrying fireworks and insulting behaviour, but it did not stop an avalanche of projectiles being thrown on to the field from the start, causing an immediate delay.

The game resumed long enough for Ricardo van Rhijn to head home a corner off the underside of the crossbar and put Ajax ahead, prompting another volley of missiles thrown by Ajax supporters gathered behind their own goal.

The players were taken off by the officials as Ajax coach Frank de Boeer went over to the supporters to ask them to behave.

Club director Edwin van der Sar took to the public address to appeal for reason.

“Stop throwing fireworks on the field, it’s dangerous,” he said. “If it happens again, the game is abandoned.”

Within three minutes of the resumption, New Zealand teenager Thomas equalised and four minutes later put his side ahead, converting a rebound after Maikel Van der Werff’s free kick hit the woodwork.

Fernandez was sent through by Kamohelo Mokotjo to beat the Ajax defence for the third goal after 22 minutes and got another 10 minutes later, winning an aerial duel with Niklas Moisander to put unfancied PEC 4-1 ahead just past the half-hour mark.

Defender Bram van Polen extended the lead over shell-shocked Ajax four minutes into the second half.

Thomas missed out on a hat-trick with a close in header just two minutes later as Zwolle’s fans chanted: “Ten, ten”.

PEC had twice lost in the Dutch Cup final in 1928 and 1977 while Ajax were looking to extend their record number of wins in the competition to 19.

They are still odds-on to claim the league title, needing one point from their last two games.

(Reporting by Mark Gleeson; Editing by Ed Osmond)

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Moyes endures horror return to Everton as Martinez outwits United

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The Scot, who enjoyed 11 successful years at Goodison Park before replacing Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford at the end of last season, was booed by the home fans when he appeared from the tunnel at the start of the game.

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His fortunes did not improve as Everton took command with a Leighton Baines penalty in the 28th minute following a Phil Jones handball, before the hosts doubled their lead through Kevin Mirallas’s low finish just before the break.

Despite controlling possession, a toothless United struggled to carve out any meaningful chances and rarely troubled Everton keeper Tim Howard before falling to their 11th Premier League defeat of the season.

“We had a lot the ball, passing, and controlled the majority of the game,” said Moyes, whose side are seventh in the table with 57 points from 34 games.

“But we didn’t have a cutting edge and got done on the counter attack. We gave away two dreadful goals.”

United fielded the attacking quartet of Shinji Kagawa, Juan Mata, Nani and Wayne Rooney, but lacked a creative spark when they got into Everton territory.

Moyes, however, said the wheels were in motion to strengthen the squad for next season.

“We couldn’t find the telling pass, or clever play in the final third that makes the difference,” he said.

“I thought we did well, were the better team at 2-0 down in the first half.

“We’ll do everything we can to win the remaining four games. We are under way with what we are doing to improve next season and try to give ourselves a better chance to compete at the top end of the table.”

Martinez again showcased his managerial talents to mastermind a seventh victory in eight matches which kept them one point behind fourth-placed Arsenal with three games to play.

The Spaniard, who led Wigan Athletic to FA Cup success last season, has been a revelation since taking over from Moyes and his team have played an attractive and positive style of football which has earned many plaudits.

Everton enjoyed just 38 percent possession against United, their lowest of the season, but were rarely troubled by the visitors and Martinez praised their “electrifying” counter-attacking performance.

“Sometimes you need to adapt to what you face on the pitch,” he told the BBC.

“It was a case of the quality United had on the pitch, we had to be solid, organised and use the dynamic football we have.

“The 2-0 lead allowed us to be more economical with our performance. We were very clear in what we had to do and we did that. We were electrifying on the counter.”

(Reporting By Tom Hayward; editing by Toby Davis)

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Alonso credits Domenicali after Ferrari podium

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The Spaniard said his third place in China, the fourth race of the year, was a confidence boost for Formula One’s most glamorous team after a difficult start to the season led to Domenicali’s resignation last week.

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“I think this podium should be dedicated to Stefano, as everything we do up to July will also be the result of his efforts,” said Alonso.

“We have definitely made a step forward, because compared to two weeks ago, we have partly closed the gap to the leaders, but we are well aware there’s still a long way to go and we have to keep our feet on the ground.”

Mercedes have won every race this year, with Lewis Hamilton leading Nico Rosberg in a one-two finish in the last three including China.

Alonso was only ninth and way off the pace in Bahrain two weeks earlier but Ferrari’s improved form, with new principal Marco Mattiacci watching from the pit wall, will be good for morale as the team tries to catch up.

“We felt more competitive and now … being here on the podium is some kind of surprise for us, a nice surprise finally,” Alonso said from the podium.

“We didn’t have the start of the season that we would like but at the end of the day we’re still in the fight.”

The double world champion is third in the standings, 38 points adrift of Rosberg.

Ferrari are fourth overall with 52 points, 102 behind Mercedes.

“This weekend we made some progress and in general, the speed of the car has increased, both in the corners and on the straights,” said technical head Pat Fry.

“But we have to be realistic about our current potential and continue working, because the gap to Mercedes is still big and no one within our team has any intention of giving up.”

(Writing by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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Hamstrung Judd a blow for Blues

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Carlton’s crisis is over but a hamstring injury to Chris Judd will deliver more unwanted headlines for coach Mick Malthouse.

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The Blues’ worst start to a season in 25 years finally delivered a win, captain Marc Murphy leading from the front in a 28-point victory over the Western Bulldogs at Etihad Stadium on Sunday.

The four premiership points will keep the wolves at bay but Judd faces up to another month sidelined.

Even before Carlton’s 18.11 (119) to 13.13 (91) win pundits were debating whether the superstar was ready for AFL intensity given he’d had no match practice since achilles surgery in February.

Asked about it, Malthouse treated the question with trademark disdain.

“What, do you think I would play someone with a doubtful hamstring? No,” he quipped.

“He’s had hamstring problems before … so to clarify that, when you know that they have it’s the last thing you would ever dream of doing.”

Former Brisbane coach and captain Michael Voss was among those to defend the club’s call on Judd.

“Mick Malthouse had to play Chris Judd. Season on line had to go with it. Was managed but didn’t work,” Voss tweeted.

Malthouse said Judd’s continued on-field absence would not be an issue inside the club.

In Sunday’s other matches, Adelaide made it consecutive thumpings by beating GWS 21.11 (137) to 10.12 (72) and Gold Coast pipped Melbourne 11.20 (86) to 11.12 (78).

St Kilda caused a major boilover on Saturday night, Nick Riewoldt kicking five goals in a 11.15 (81) to 9.11 (65) win over Essendon.

Collingwood, Sydney and Port Adelaide also claimed meritorious wins in round five, clinically disposing of North Melbourne, Fremantle and West Coast respectively.

The Magpies downed the Kangaroos by 35 points at the MCG on Saturday, and will be hot favourites to get the better of Essendon in the sides’ traditional Anzac Day match.

The Swans rediscovered their best in a plucky 17-point victory over the Dockers at the SCG, where star recruit Lance Franklin kicked four goals.

Port Adelaide scored a hard-fought 14-point win in Perth, and the third-placed team will have their premiership credentials put to the test in a home clash with Geelong next Sunday.

“The important thing for us is that it’s at Adelaide Oval … and we fill the place up and we make it as hostile an environment for Geelong as best we can outside the fence,” Port coach Ken Hinkley said.

“Then we try to do the same thing inside the fence.”

Round five concludes on Easter Monday with the league’s two remaining unbeaten sides, fierce rivals Hawthorn and Geelong, squaring off at the MCG.

Four days later, six clubs will share the honour of playing on Anzac Day.

Aside from the traditional fixture in Melbourne, the Dockers host North Melbourne while the league’s New Zealand experiment continues with Brisbane up against the Saints in Wellington.

The Lions remain the league’s only winless side, having fallen 15.16 (106) to 9.9 (63) against Richmond last Thursday night at the Gabba.

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14 Algerian soldiers killed in ambush

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Fourteen Algerian soldiers were killed and a dozen wounded when they fell into an ambush in the restive Kabylie region east of Algiers, security sources say.

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Eleven soldiers were killed instantly, and another three later died of their wounds, national news agency APS quoted one security source as saying.

“A convoy of the People’s National Army (ANP) that was returning from an operation to secure Thursday’s presidential election was surprised by a large terrorist group that had laid an ambush for it” at Iboudrarene, the source said.

Troops “immediately launched a search operation to find the attackers,” the same source added.

Another security source said a dozen soldiers were also wounded in the ambush, and that reinforcements had been dispatched to the area.

The attackers laid the ambush on a main road between two villages in the mountainous region where Islamist militants who battled the army during the civil war in the 1990s still operate.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has also attacked security forces there.

But the defence ministry said on Sunday that nearby “Boumerdes-Tizi Ouzou-Bouira road remains the area where anti terrorist operations have had the most significant results” in the first third of 2014.

Thirty-seven militants were killed by troops across Algeria during the first quarter of the year, included 21 in Kabylie, the statement said, calling the fighters “terrorists”.

Sunday’s attack came after ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika won a fourth term last week in an election marred by low turnout and allegations of fraud, with his main rival rejecting the result.

Discontent with the 77-year-old Bouteflika was most evident in Kabylie, where some 70 people were wounded in clashes on Thursday between police and youths seeking to disrupt the vote.

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Bayer regain fourth in German Bundesliga

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Bayer Leverkusen has regained fourth place in the Bundesliga with a 4-1 romp at Nuremberg in their battle to retain their Champions League place for next season.

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Goals by Leverkusen’s Bosnia centre-back Emir Spahic and Poland left-back Sebastian Boenisch cancelled out Marvin Plattenhardt’s first-half equaliser as the visitors went 2-1 up soon after the break.

Leverkusen’s South Korea star Son Heung-Min made sure of the victory when he sprinted clear on a counter-attack and drew the defence for Spahic to tap home his second with ten minutes left.

Ex-Germany international Roberto Hilbert grabbed Leverkusen’s fourth seven minutes later having come off the bench.

“We want a Champions League place and we won’t rest until we get it,” said Leverkusen’s director of sport Rudi Voeller.

Leverkusen lead Wolfsburg by a point with just three games left to decide Germany’s fourth Champions League place after Wolves had spent 24 hours in fourth after Saturday’s 3-1 win at Hamburg.

Bayer enjoyed their second straight win since ex-Liverpool captain Sami Hyypia was sacked as coach, while Nuremberg suffered their fourth straight defeat which leaves them second from bottom.

VfB Stuttgart took a big step towards survival with a 3-1 win at home to third-placed Schalke 04 which leaves them four points from the relegation places.

Austria striker Martin Harnik netted twice while Germany forward Cacau also scored as Stuttgart raced into a 3-0 lead before Hungary’s Adam Szalai pulled one back for the visitors with 20 minutes left.

“We’ve shown we can fight, keep things together and beat a team who are better than us on paper,” said Stuttgart coach Huub Stevens.

“That’s a step (away from relegation), but nothing more.”

On Saturday, champions Bayern Munich ended a run of three Bundesliga games without victory with an unimpressive 2-0 win at bottom club Eintracht Braunschweig ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League semi-final, first-leg at Real Madrid.

Peru veteran Claudio Pizarro, 35, and Croatian striker Mario Mandzukic were on target with late goals in what was only Bayern’s third win in their last seven games in all competitions.

The victory left Bayern on 81 points and 17 points clear of second-placed Dortmund who picked up their fifth straight win.

Borussia enjoyed a 4-2 victory at home to ten-man Mainz 05 as coach Jurgen Klopp faced his former side having coached them from 2001-08.

Ten-man VfL Wolfsburg romped to a 3-1 win at Hamburg as goals by Ivan Perisic, Kevin de Bruyne and Ivica Olic gave Wolves a 3-0 lead just after the break before Hamburg’s Ivo Ilicevic scored a consolation for the hosts who remain third from bottom.

Wolves were reduced to ten men when Brazil midfielder Luiz Gustavo was sent off for a second yellow card on 90 minutes.

Hamburg are facing an historic first relegation from Germany’s top flight.

Freiburg are virtually assured of their survival as their 4-2 win at home to ten-man Borussia Moenchengladbach left them eight points above the relegation places with three games left.

Likewise, Werder Bremen are set to stay in the Bundesliga as their 3-1 win at home to Hoffenheim lifted them up to 11th and nine points from danger while mid-table Hertha Berlin and Augsburg shared the points in a goalless draw.

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