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May 23, 2013

Hoffenheim ready for play-off

When Hoffenheim take on Kaiserslautern to fight for the last berth in the 2013-14 Bundesliga season two very different cultures will clash.

Hoffenheim were all but relegated 75 minutes into the last Bundesliga game at Dortmund's Westfalenstadion. A thrilling final quarter of an hour later they had twice scored from the penalty spot and survived the heart-stopping final seconds when Marcel Schmelzer's 94th-minute equaliser was allowed then rightly disallowed for an offside position from Robert Lewandowski.

"If you coped with the pressure there, you will cope with this situation," Hoffenheim boss Markus Gisdol said looking ahead to the two relegation play-offs against Kaiserslautern, to be played on Thursday and Monday.

Hoffenheim are widely regarded as a small team with lots of money but no history, but the Dortmund game gave them their first real memorable story.

"We now want to finish what we started and create that small miracle," Gisdol told kicker. The 41-year-old coach had taken over with Hoffenheim in a hopeless situation, but 11 points in seven games lifted them out of the drop zone in the last minute. They will now take on Kaiserslautern, who finished the Bundesliga II season third behind Hertha Berlin and Eintracht Braunschweig.

Unlike Hoffenheim, the Red Devils can look back on a long history. In 1954, five Kaiserslautern players formed the backbone of the Germany team that won the World Cup in Switzerland. They have played 44 Bundesliga seasons, compared to Hoffenheim's five. The club had more than 300,000 requests for tickets for the two-legged play-off.

"Those will be two special games," Kaiserslautern CEO Stefan Kuntz, a winner at Euro '96 with Germany, said. "Because of the local factor of the game but also because of the duel between tradition and the rich kids."

Kaiserslautern skipper Albert Bunjaku, 30, said they will not rest until they won promotion.

"We will eat every inch of grass to use our chance. Everybody has to be on fire," the Swiss striker said.

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