Nkunku steers Leipzig toward Champions League qualification
BERLIN (AP) — Christopher Nkunku starred as Leipzig took a big step toward Champions League qualification by rallying very late to beat Werder Bremen 2-1 in the Bundesliga on Sunday.
The French forward set up both goals — Willi Orban with the equalizer in the 87th minute, then Dominik Szoboszlai with the winner in the sixth minute of injury time – for Leipzig to reclaim third place from Union Berlin and move four points clear of fifth-place Freiburg.
Two rounds remain and the top four qualify for the Champions League.
Bremen had been hoping to secure its league survival with a win and it looked good for the visitors for much of the game.
Leipzig was aggrieved to have Nkunku’s goal in the 66th ruled out through VAR for a push in the back from Mohamed Simakan on Leonardo Bittencourt in the buildup. TV replays showed contact, and Bittencourt tried playing the ball after he fell.
Bittencourt further riled the Leipzig fans when he scored four minutes later with a fine finish to Jens Stage’s cross.
Tempers frayed minutes later with pushing and shoving between rival players. Referee Florian Badstübner showed three yellow cards, with Bittencourt among those booked.
Bremen goalkeeper Jiri Pavlenka produced a brilliant save to deny Nkunku in the 77th, but he was unable to stop Orban scoring with a powerful header to Nkunku’s cross in the 87th, or Szoboszlai with the winner.
Stuttgart missed the chance to escape the relegation zone earlier when it was held 1-1 at home by Bayer Leverkusen.
Two penalties ensured a share of the points, though Stuttgart will rue Exequiel Palacios’ equalizer as it left the team second from bottom on 29 points with two rounds remaining.
Serhou Guirassy opened the scoring with a penalty in the 57th minute, temporarily lifting Stuttgart ahead of Bochum on goal difference, but Palacios replied with another spot kick 13 minutes later to leave Stuttgart in a direct relegation place.
Hertha Berlin was last on 25 points, four points behind Stuttgart, while Schalke (30 points), Bochum (31) and Hoffenheim (32) also remain in danger.
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Ciarán Fahey, The Associated Press