Harm Osmers made it particularly exciting. The referee stood almost motionless in Hertha BSC’s penalty area. From time to time he put his index finger to his ear and listened to what was passed to him from Cologne. hand or not hand? Penalty for Hamburger SV or not? Osmers drew a rectangle in the air – and ran out to the center line to see the disputed scene for himself. The procedure lasted a good two minutes, and then the referee gave his verdict. He decided on handball, but not by Peter Pekarik, but by Maximilian Rohr from Hamburg.

It was as close as in this scene after a good half hour and as exciting in the first of two relegation games between Hertha BSC and HSV. The playful element fell by the wayside a bit. But that is almost inevitably the case when it comes to sporting existence, when it comes to the last starting place in the Bundesliga. The relegation lives from its explosiveness. That will also be the case in the second 90 minutes on Monday in Hamburg, for which HSV now has a slight advantage after the 1-0 (0-0) win in Berlin.

Coach Felix Magath had made three changes compared to the defeat at Borussia Dortmund. As expected, it wasn’t enough for Marcel Lotka, Hertha’s new number one. In his place was Oliver Christensen in goal, who made his debut for Hertha’s professionals in the important relegation game. The suspended Santiago Ascacibar was replaced by Niklas Stark. And on the offensive, 19-year-old Luca Wollschläger was allowed to play from the start instead of Jurgen Ekkelenkamp.

It crackled – and that long before kick-off, when the Olympic Stadium slowly filled up. Both teams were able to enjoy such massive support that Fredi Bobic noted an “incredible atmosphere” just before the game started. That was also probably due to almost 20,000 Hamburgers who were there in Berlin. Only one sat quietly and almost a little introverted in his seat: Hertha’s coach Magath.

Both teams entered this relegation from different directions. While Hertha gambled away the direct relegation in the final phase of the season, third place for HSV in the second division was far more than it had dared to hope for a few weeks ago. Many saw the Hamburgers as having a slight psychological advantage.

The mood was also reflected immediately before the kick-off, when a small choreo was performed in the Hamburg curve, including a banner “With passion and struggle back to old glory”. HSV was in the mood for this argument. In the east curve on the other side hung a banner on the balustrade: “Abolish relegation”. The relegation for Hertha is something like the bonus game to avoid relegation after all.

Nevertheless, Magath was optimistic. Because his team had played in a better league than HSV all season, they were also able to play better football, Hertha’s coach had said the day before the game. But the relegation is traditionally not a haven of good and beautiful football. That was also the case in the Olympic Stadium.

Both teams had phases in which they determined the game a little more than the opponent. At Hertha it was after a good quarter of an hour when Ishak Belfodil started a solo in the Hamburg penalty area, danced out the first defender, but then ran into the second. Hamburg were more dominant towards the end of the first half when Robert Glatzel headed into the side netting.

Shortly thereafter, however, the home fans cheered – because Belfodil was able to head in to the supposed 1-0 after a good cross from Marvin Plattenhardt. But the linesman raised the flag. It was close here too. But the goal didn’t count. Magath reacted early and brought on Stevan Jovetic for the young Wollschläger, who was hardly noticed, right at the start of the second half. Jovetic was the focus soon after, when he demanded a penalty after a fall in the penalty area, but Osmers allowed play to continue. Just a few minutes later, the Montenegrin had Hertha’s best chance to take the lead. His shot from five meters went just wide of the goal.

Almost in return, however, the Berliners were caught cold and bad. Ludovit Reis crossed from the left, but the cross turned into a shot on target that flew over the unfortunate Christensen. The ball landed on the post and rolled over the line from there to make it 1-0 for HSV. It was an effective hit that made Hertha stagger. The Berlin defense now seemed confused and unsorted a few times. Magath tried Marco Richter and 18-year-old Linus Gechter for the last 20 minutes. Hertha didn’t lack effort, but the playful ability wasn’t enough to turn the game around.