Leverkusen beats Cologne 2-0 in Bundesliga
BERLIN (AP) -- Not even the eagerly anticipated return of Lukas Podolski could stop Cologne slumping to a 2-0 defeat to Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga's Rhine derby on Saturday.
Cologne fans had their hopes pinned on the striker who scored half of their side's league goals this season, but Podolski was unable to exert his usual influence after four weeks out injured.
Instead, Germany teammate Lars Bender scored twice for Leverkusen to leave Cologne two points off the relegation places after six defeats in seven games.
"These are hard times for us," Cologne coach Stale Solbakken said after his side's third straight defeat.
Bender opened the scoring from close range in the 16th minute, making sure Vedran Corluka's goalward header crossed the line after Stefan Reinartz's initial header hit the post. The Leverkusen midfielder coolly tucked the ball beyond Michael Rensing in the 51st, thanks to an outstanding pass from Renato Augusto.
Nuremberg stunned Werder Bremen in the late game when Alexander Esswein scored for the visitors to win 1-0 and move away from the relegation zone.
Bremen's Claudio Pizarro was agonizingly wide before the break, and the Peru striker went even closer after it when he struck the post after rounding the goalkeeper.
Pizarro set up Marko Marin in the 61st, only for Marin to scoop the ball over from close range.
"Unfortunately we didn't take our chances. Sometimes the ball doesn't want to go in, and this season we've hit the post pretty often," Pizarro said.
Nuremberg scored against the run of play in the 65th, when Jens Hegeler crossed for the unmarked Esswein to drill a shot to the far corner.
Coach Otto Rehhagel's long-awaited return to the Bundesliga could not prevent Hertha Berlin slumping to its sixth successive defeat, its seventh in all competitions.
Augsburg beat the 73-year-old coach's side 3-0 in his first game in charge to move above the visitors and leave Hertha in the relegation playoff place.
"Augsburg fought like lions," Rehhagel said. "Everyone has to understand that we're in a relegation battle. It's obvious that we can't play like Barcelona."
Elsewhere, Stuttgart beat bottom side Freiburg 4-1 in a local derby, Mainz routed Kaiserslautern 4-0 and Hoffenheim won 2-1 at Wolfsburg.
Rehhagel, who led Greece to the 2004 European Championship, was swarmed by photographers on his first Bundesliga appearance since 2000, but there was little the former Hertha Berlin player could do when Torsten Oehrl struck twice within three minutes for host Augsburg.
Midfielder Koo Ja-Cheol's delicate touch allowed Oehrl to rifle the ball past Thomas Kraft in the 61st, and the Augsburg striker sealed Hertha's fate two minutes later, before Marcel Ndjeng scored with a fine effort in injury time.
"We're simply in the wrong film," Hertha defender Andre Mijatovic said.
Martin Harnik scored twice in Stuttgart's win, opening the scoring in the 12th and then crossing for striker Shinji Okazaki to make it 2-0 nine minutes later. Okazaki endured a painful-looking collision with the post to reach the Austrian's cross.
Freiburg defender Fallou Diagne pulled one back with a header from a corner in the 27th, but Khalid Boulahrouz scored in the 63rd and Harnik claimed his second in the 82nd.
"I carry responsibility for the performance," Kaiserslautern coach Marco Kurz said after his side's 13th game without a win.
Mohamed Zidan scored in the second minute for Mainz, with his fourth goal in four consecutive games since his winter transfer from Borussia Dortmund.
Elkin Soto cut it back for Adam Szalai in the 17th, and Zidan fed Mueller on the right to blast the ball past Kevin Trapp in the 30th.
Kaiserslautern captain Christian Tiffert hit the crossbar before the break, and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting piled more misery on the visitors when he made it 4-0 in the 74th.
"To win a derby 4-0 is extraordinary of course," Mainz coach Thomas Tuchel said. "We're very happy in every respect."
In Wolfsburg, Hoffenheim midfielder Roberto Firmino scored with a tap-in in the second minute after Diego Benaglio saved from Boris Vukcevic.
Patrick Helmes celebrated his return to Wolfsburg's starting lineup for the first time since Oct. 1 by equalizing from the penalty spot in the 69th. It was the striker's first goal since the opening weekend after he fell out with Wolfsburg coach Felix Magath.
However, Sven Schipplock scored in the 84th to give the visitors the win.
"A deserved loss and perhaps our weakest game all season," Magath said.
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