Borussia Dortmund head to Hoffenheim in a buoyant mood after edging rivals Bayern Munich to reach the DFB-Pokal final on Tuesday.
Dortmund made a miserable start to the season and sat bottom of the table on more than one occasion, but the cup may provide light at the end of the tunnel, if they can beat Wolfsburg in the May 30 final.
It could also provide outgoing coach Jurgen Klopp with the perfect swansong to his excellent stint in charge at the German giants, which has brought about two Bundesliga titles and a run to the UEFA Champions League final in 2013.
Bayern missed all four penalties in a shootout to end Tuesday’s semi-final, leaving Dortmund elated, but CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke has urged the team to move on quickly ahead of a crucial Bundesliga clash on Saturday.
Schalke and Augsburg, fifth and sixth respectively, occupy the UEFA Europa League spots for next season with 42 points. Hoffenheim sit seventh with 40, while Dortmund are one place and one point adrift.
“It was exciting,” Watzke told Dortmund’s official website. “Jurgen Klopp’s dream of taking the bus to the Borsigplatz [main square in Dortmund to celebrate] goes on.
“But first we’ve got to travel to Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga. It’ll be an extremely important game in the race to reach the Europa League.”
The likes of Werder Bremen and Mainz also remain in contention for a Europa League spot, so, with just four matches of the season remaining, Saturday’s clash is vital in every sense of the word.
Dortmund have grown accustomed to European football in recent years and qualifying for continental competition would represent an excellent result given their start to the season.
Those chances looked shot after consecutive league defeats to Bayern and Borussia Monchengladbach, but wins over Paderborn and Eintracht Frankfurt have lifted spirits.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Shinji Kagawa scored in both of those victories.
Australia goalkeeper Mitchell Langerak – so impressive against Bayern in the DFB-Pokal – will continue in goal for Dortmund as Roman Weidenfeller (pelvis) remains on the sidelines.
Hoffenheim’s form is far worse, with a winless run of six matches in all competitions – which included a cup quarter-final defeat to Dortmund in extra time – ended by a 2-1 success at Hannover last time out.
Dortmund have won both meetings between the two sides this season, with their cup success preceded by a 1-0 league win in December that came thanks to Ilkay Gundogan’s strike.
Hoffenheim’s last victory against Dortmund was a memorable one.
Needing all three points on the final day of the 2012-13 season to secure a relegation play-off – which they would ultimately win against Kaiserslautern – Hoffenheim came from behind to win 2-1 at Signal-Iduna Park thanks to Sejad Salihovic’s brace of penalties.
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