Hertha BSC’s hopes of reaching the UEFA Europa League group stages for the first time since the 2009-10 season ended at the earlier possible hurdle as Teemu Pukki scored a hat-trick to help Brøndby overcome a 1-0 first leg deficit.
Hertha had a one-goal advantage from the first leg in Berlin, thanks to Vedad Ibišević’s spectacular overhead kick. They only had to score one goal here to force Brøndby to score three, but after Ibišević had equalised on the night the Danes did just that.
Pukki was the recipient of some very poor defending, especially for the second and third goals, and despite their best efforts, particularly from Salomon Kalou, Hertha just couldn’t find a way back.
It meant that former RB Leipzig and VfB Stuttgart manager Alexander Zorniger saw his side through to the play-off round, whilst Hertha became the third German side in four years to lose in Europa League qualifying, following Stuttgart in 2013 and 1. FSV Mainz 05 in 2014.
A hostile atmosphere in Copenhagen outskirts
That Ibišević goal was just about enough for Hertha in the first leg, played at Friedrich Ludwig Jahn Sportpark. Rune Jarstein in goal was kept busy by the visitors, whilst Pukki chipped what was a superb chance over the bar.
They might have had the small comfort of the lead, however they may have been left rattled when their coach was attacked by some Brøndby fans ahead of the game. They threw paint bombs and stones, completely damaged the windscreen, although no players had been hurt.
Hertha had beaten Brøndby in the qualifying stage back in 2009, but this time it would prove to be a much trickier assignment, and it would prove to be a hostile atmosphere in the stadium as well.
Both sides made just the one change each from the first leg. Hertha recalled first choice keeper Thomas Kraft in place of Jarstein, whilst Frederik Holst dropped out of the Brøndby side for former Hertha midfielder Hany Mukhtar. He played 18 times for Hertha between 2012 and 2014.
Pukki strikes twice to put Hertha on the edge
The game was not even three minutes old when the hosts stunned Hertha. A long ball set up a shot for Kamil Wilczek which was saved by Kraft. But Hertha couldn’t get it away, and eventually Mukhtar set it up on a plate for former FC Schalke 04 strike Pukki to convert with the slightest of touches.
The Danes kept the game tight with Hertha having few opportunities to get forward. Marvin Plattenhardt fired over, whilst a Mitchell Weiser evaded everyone in the box. But they could have also had a penalty, with a ball from Weiser clearly hitting the out-placed hand of Andrew Hjulsager. The referee gave nothing.
But when a chance presented itself to Ibišević on the half-hour mark, he took it to give Hertha the all-important away goal advantage. A quick attack broke out, with Peter Pekarik providing the cross to the Bosnian striker, and he headed the ball low past keeper Frederik Rønnow.
But Pukki struck again just four minutes later, thanks to some disastrous defending from the right-back Plattenhardt. He intercepted the shot from Wilczek, but he let the ball run loose and the Finn made him pay in clinical fashion. Suddenly they needed just one more goal.
Their defending continued to be haphazard, and Brøndby could have had a third when Wilczek got between two defenders to head a Johan Larsson free kick over the bar. And as the half came to an end further chances came and went for Ibišević and Weiser at the other end.
Appalling defending kills off their chances
The second half started with flares being lit in the away end, a repeat of the disappointing scenes from the first leg. It didn’t affect the game though, with a Vladimir Darida cross headed out behind, and a shot form Wilczek dealt was with awkwardly by Kraft.
But then a horror moment left their European hopes hanging by a thread. Sebastian Langkamp’s passed to Per Ciljan Skjelbred, who didn’t appear completely switched on. He lazily gave it away to Wilczek, who squared it to Pukki with Kraft struggling to get back to his goal. He easily completed his hat-trick.
Hertha would have their chances to regain their lost advantage. Ibišević failed to get the ball in on the turn from a Kalou lay off, and then Kalou himself had a fantastic opportunity, getting his curling effort on target but saw it saved impressively by Rønnow.
Desperation not enough for Hertha
Still they kept pushing, with Brøndby themselves offering less. Ibišević had a shot on the bounced by a diving Benedikt Röcker, whilst Kalou managed to get round an onrushing Rønnow, but Weiser could do little when he gave him the ball. Then a header across goal form substitute Sami Allagui went unmet.
Marco Ureña, on for hat-trick hero Pukki, created a fantastic chance for himself at the other end, cutting in from the left and curling the ball just over the bar.
Pál Dárdai threw on Valentin Stocker as Hertha fought for their European lives in the closing stages, and Kalou again almost created the vital goal, but Rønnow got down low to snatch the ball from his feet to a huge cheer from the home fans.
But in the three minutes of stoppage time, with flare smoke filling the air, their desperation for a goal was too much to overcome, and when the final
So Hertha will not embark on a European adventure this season, leaving only Schalke and Mainz left for Germany in the group stages, provided Borussia Mönchengladbach don’t drop out from the UEFA Champions League.