Berlin: Robin Knoche crushed Holstein Kiel's dreams of promotion on Monday, as his header fired Wolfsburg to a 1-0 win in the second leg of the relegation play-off, securing Bundesliga survival.
Knoche's header 15 minutes from time ended a spirited resistance from underdogs Kiel, and saw Wolfsburg escape relegation in the play-off for a second successive season. Champions League quarter-finalists just two years ago, Wolfsburg’s experience saw them through as they ground out a 4-1 aggregate win over minnows Kiel.
"Kiel made it very difficult for us," Wolfsburg coach Bruno Labbadia told Eurosport. "I feel empty now, but also content. This was the hardest job I have ever had in football."
Trailing 3-1 from the first leg, the odds were stacked against Kiel, who only earned promotion to the second tier at the end of last season.
That did not stop the home fans from dreaming, and they created an electric atmosphere in the 10,000 capacity Holstein-Stadion.
Their hopes were dealt a cruel blow on 18 minutes, when Yunus Malli found the net for Wolfsburg. The visitors' celebrations were cut short, though, as Divock Origi was ruled offside by VAR, and the goal was disallowed.
Kiel came out fighting in the second half, Aaron Seydel forcing a fine reflex save from Koen Casteels on 54 minutes.
They were lucky not to go a man down minutes later, when Patrick Herrmann, already on a yellow card, crunched into Wolfsburg's Josip Brekalo.
Kiel's dreams were finally extinguished on 75 minutes, when Robin Knoche broke free of his marker at a corner and sent a powerful header past goalkeeper Kenneth Kronholm.
Hope was briefly restored for the home side five minutes from time when they bundled the ball in at a corner. Once again, though, the goal was disallowed by VAR, after Rafael Czichos was judged to have handled the ball.
"The emotions came after the final whistle," said Kiel coach Markus Anfang, who was seen crying after the game.
"The lads gave so much. It's one thing not to be promoted, but it was also bitter to lose the game, because we were clearly the better team today."
Updated Date: May 22, 2018 10:19:27 IST