Hoffenheim reclaim Bundesliga top spot

BERLIN - Hoffenheim comfortably beat relegation-threatened Energie Cottbus 2-0 on Saturday to reclaim top spot in the Bundesliga and keep their title hoes in the debut season alive.

Demba Ba opened the scoring with his eighth goal of the season after 28 minutes before Boubacar Sanogo marked his debut with a second on 63 after joining on loan from Werder Bremen earlier this month.

Hoffenheim, without top scorer Vedad Ibisevic who is out for the rest of the season with a ruptured cruciate ligament, put in another solid performance as they resumed their title chase in their first top-flight season.

Hoffenheim lead with 38 points, two ahead of Hertha Berlin who nicked ahead of Hamburg SV on goal difference thanks to a Marko Pantelic brace in a 2-1 win over Eintracht Frankfurt.

Champions Bayern Munich lost 1-0 to Hamburg on Friday and drop to fourth on 35.

Hoffenheim started new signings Sanogo and former Germany keeper Timo Hildebrand but missed a spate of good chances with the Ivory Coast striker and defender Matthias Jaissle proving particularly wasteful.

The hosts had to wait only half an hour though to celebrate their first league goal in their newly-opened Rhein-Neckar arena when Ba picked up a Selim Teber cross and muscled his way past two defenders before slotting home.

Sanogo added the second when he combined beautifully with Ba to beat keeper Gerhard Tremmel from ten metres.

Hildebrand did not have as enjoyable a debut, having to be substituted in the 60th minute and taken to hospital for x-rays on his injured foot.

"We are satisfied with the result but also with the way the team played for most of the game," Hoffenheim coach Ralf Rangnick told reporters. "They deserve a big fat compliment."


Hertha edged past Frankfurt for their seventh straight league win at home when Pantelic netted in each half.

The Berliners, who this week renewed coach Lucien Favre's contract for another year, also missed a penalty when Cicero's effort was blocked by goalkeeper Markus Proell on 33 minutes.

Frankfurt pulled one back through Benjamin Koehler three minutes after Pantelic's second but failed to grab an equaliser despite putting Hertha under mounting pressure.

"We are very relieved with this result," Favre said. "Frankfurt put us under a lot of pressure at 2-0 but we hung in there. I had the intuition to play Pantelic."

Sixth-placed Borussia Dortmund were lucky to get away with a 1-1 home draw against Bayer Leverkusen after the side who lie one place ahead of them on 33 points dominated throughout.

The hosts led through a header from Switzerland's Alexander Frei's nine minutes before the break before Leverkusen's Patrick Helmes and Stefan Kiessling went close to levelling early in the second half but were denied by goalkeeper and cross bar.

Helmes scored the equaliser when Tranquillo Barnetta set him up to slot home his 13th goal of the season.

Schalke 04's erratic season continued when hosts Hanover scored against