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By ESPN Staff
Apr 22, 2006

Hamburg waste chance to close gap

BERLIN, April 22 (Reuters) - Hamburg SV squandered a chance to cut Bayern Munich's lead to just one point at the top of the Bundesliga with a 2-0 home defeat to Bayer Leverkusen on Saturday.

Poor finishing hurt Hamburg early in the first half and they were caught by surprise when Simon Rolfes broke free in front of goal to score off a back pass from Dimitar Berbatov in the eighth minute.

Paul Freier beat two defenders with a slalom move in the 77th minute and fired past Hamburg goalkeeper Sascha Kirschstein into the far corner for his sixth goal of the season to seal Leverkusen's fifth consecutive win.

Despite narrowing Bayern's lead, Hamburg have lost three of their last five home matches. They have 65 points with three matches left while Bayern, with four matches still to play, are at Mainz on Sunday and have 69 points.

Bayern, chasing their 20th Bundesliga title, have watched their nine-point lead melt to four in the last three weeks.

'We just couldn't get the ball over the line,' HSV coach Thomas Doll said of the match played on a terrible pitch.

'The boys had a great match. After 25 minutes we could have been ahead 4-1 and no one could have complained.'

Hamburg, who were eyeing their first title since 1983, found enough openings in Leverkusen's defence for 33 shots on goal compared to 11 for the visitors - honoured with warm applause from the 57,000 spectators.

HSV striker Ailton had three great chances in the first half but was unable to get anything past goalkeeper Hans-Joerg Butt.

'I just didn't have any luck,' said Ailton, who had scored three goals in Hamburg's last four matches. 'I should have scored three times in the first half alone and (Benjamin) Lauth had good chances too. It's unfortunate.'

Captain Sergei Barbarez and Iran midfielder Mehdi Mahdavikia also kept the pressure on Leverkusen but were unable to find the net for Hamburg, who were sorely missing injured playmaker Rafael van der Vaart.

The victory kept fifth-place Leverkusen on target for a spot in the UEFA Cup with 47 points, two ahead of Hertha Berlin.

'It was an important win for us even if we didn't play as well defensively as we did in recent weeks,' said Leverkusen coach Michael Skibbe. 'Butt had a great match in the goal even if we let Hamburg have far too made chances.