Hoffenheim hope new stadium will boost title tilt

BERLIN - Bundesliga leaders Hoffenheim opened their new 60-million euro stadium on Saturday, hoping it will boost their chances of winning the title when the league resumes next week.

Located in nearby Sinsheim, the 30,000-seat Rhein-Neckar arena, which can be reduced to 27,500 seats for international fixtures, will be the surprise leaders' home ground with all 20,000 season tickets already sold out.

Hoffenheim only won promotion to the top flight last year.

"I wish the Hoffenheim wonder continues on an endless run in this stadium," the team's financial backer, software billionaire Dietmar Hopp, who paid for the stadium, told reporters at the inauguration ceremony, peppered with fireworks.

"I hope we remain on the German soccer map for a long long time," Hopp said.

Thousands of fans flocked to the new stadium which took 17 months to build for a glimpse of their new home and to watch their team play a friendly against a team composed of players from the region.

Hoffenheim were stunning during the first part of the season, topping the standings ahead of champions Bayern Munich on goal difference after 17 games.

Hoffenheim previously played their home games at the Carl-Benz stadium in Mannheim.

With an audacious attacking style and the league's most effective strike force, Hoffenheim have won over many fans in Germany who want to see the village team with few famous players seriously challenge powerhouse Bayern for the title.

Their hopes, however, suffered a major setback recently when the league's top scorer, Vedad Ibisevic, ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament during a practice match and he will be out for the rest of the season.

"I hope Bayern will not win the championship and I wish our boys all the best," Ibisevic told Bild newspaper.