Goalkeeper Rene Adler claimed he “aged three years” during Hamburg’s thrilling promotion-relegation play-off triumph against Karlsruher on Monday.
Hamburg needed a stoppage-time equaliser from Marcelo Diaz and Nicolai Muller’s extra-time strike to win away from home in the second leg, securing a 3-2 aggregate victory to maintain their perfect Bundesliga record.
In 52 seasons of the German top flight, Hamburg have been the only constant but had to avoid relegation via a play-off for a second year in a row in 2014-15.
After the first leg in Hamburg finished 1-1, Adler and Co. looked in desperate trouble in second-half stoppage time at Wildparkstadion, with Karlsruher leading thanks to Reinhold Yabo’s strike.
But Bruno Labbadia’s men found a way, with Adler also saving a penalty in the 121st minute.
“I’d rather not go through a game like this often, even if it did work out well for us in the end,” Adler said, according to the Bundesliga’s website.
“I think I aged three years tonight. It was a victory for our team spirit. I still need to come back down to earth after this. It’s indescribable.”
Labbadia, who was only installed as coach on April 15 with Hamburg second-last and in the midst of a five-game losing streak, hailed his players’ efforts over the final eight matches of the season.
“I can’t put my feelings into words. I love the city, I love this club,” he said.
“I knew saving Hamburg would be a huge task when taking over when the club were bottom of the standings [sic]. I’m extremely proud of the team and with the way they’ve worked in the last six weeks.”
Outgoing captain Rafael van der Vaart, whose contract expires at the end of June, struggled similarly to put his feelings into words.
“We knew it would be tight but not so tight. To avoid relegation in my last game for the club – I don’t know how we did it, but it’s an amazing feeling,” the former Netherlands international said.
“It’s important for the whole club and the whole city. I’m just delighted that we’ve stayed up. Marcelo nicked the [equalising] free-kick, I was meant to take it.”