In the latest edition of our Greatest Games series, Bundesliga commentator Kevin Hatchard fires up the time machine to revisit what he believes is the most entertaining game in the league's history.
"Heing-Min Son smashed in a ten-minute treble for Bayer Leverkusen, and it still wasn't enough against a Wolfsburg team that played breathtaking football."
Bayer Leverkusen 4 Wolfsburg 5
Saturday 14 February 2015
Nine by the Rhine
One of the joys of being a football commentator is that you never quite know how a game is going to unfold. You learn that whatever match you get handed going into a weekend has the potential to quicken the pulse and capture the imagination. Of course, there's always the possibility of a mind-numbing stinker (a pitiful goalless draw between Aston Villa and Stoke in 2012 is the worst I've ever covered) but more often than not, there are pleasant surprises.
It was Valentine's Day 2015, and Wolfsburg were trying to chase down Pep Guardiola's Bayern Munich in the title race. Die Wolfe had their best team since the one that had stunned Germany by lifting the Bundesliga shield in 2009.
Having been discarded by Jose Mourinho at Chelsea, Kevin De Bruyne was establishing himself as an elite playmaker. By the end of the 2014/15 season, the brilliant Belgian racked up 10 goals and 20 assists in the Bundesliga. Brazilian behemoth Naldo was imperious in defence, Ivan Perisic was a dynamic presence in midfield, and Bas Dost proved himself to be a true penalty-area predator.
Bayer Leverkusen were in their first season under coach Roger Schmidt, a man who makes the term "gung-ho" seem like a note of caution. His thrilling brand of football was keeping Bayer in the mix for European qualification, and Schmidt's volcanic temper ensured there was never a dull moment at the BayArena (he once caused the temporary suspension of a match because he refused to accept being sent to the stands, and on another occasion used some rather industrial language to suggest that bright young coach Julian Nagelsmann thought he'd invented football.)
Wonderful Wolves dominate first half-hour
Amazing, jaw-dropping games often need a breathtaking start to set the scene. Wolfsburg obliged, as they raced into a 3-0 lead inside 29 minutes. Dost snuck in between defenders to score with a diving header in only the sixth minute, and it was 2-0 barely 10 minutes later. Despite what some Arsenal fans may tell you, Bernd Leno has always been a goalkeeper in the "he's got a mistake in him" category, and he feebly pushed a long-range Naldo free-kick into the net.
The third goal was a work of art - De Bruyne left the leaden-footed Roberto Hilbert trailing in his wake on the left flank, and his pinpoint cross was caressed past Leno by Dost. It was a spine-tingling example of the striker's art - the sharp movement to the near post, the deft angling of the boot and the perfect contact with the ball.
Son inspires captivating comeback
No league rips up scripts on the move quite like the Bundesliga, and Leverkusen recovered in the second half, with future Tottenham star Heung-Min Son at the heart of their revival. In the 57th minute, Wolfsburg keeper Diego Benaglio fumbled a bobbling drive from Karim Bellarabi, and Son stabbed the ball through his legs. Five minutes later, a long punt upfield tempted the shaky Benaglio off his line, and two heavenly touches from Son did the rest.
Just 73 seconds after completing his brace, Son attempted a header in his own half that even this planet's most learned scholars will never be able to explain. Wolfsburg seized upon the loose ball, and Ricardo Rodriguez found the lurking Dost at the far post. The Dutchman rammed the ball into the roof of the net to complete his hat-trick and make it 4-2.
Surely the end? Of course not. In the 67th minute, Son scored a very Son type of goal, cutting in from the right flank and smashing a shot beyond the hapless Benaglio. The South Korean had bagged a 10-minute treble, and the hosts were within a goal of an extraordinary comeback. That recovery was completed in the 72nd minute, as the fleet-footed Bellarabi (the kind of player you should always buy on FIFA because of his pace) turned on the turbos and outpaced the whole Wolfsburg defence before ramming a shot through Benaglio. 4-4, game on.
Bosnian bad-boy turns the tide
Leverkusen coach Schmidt wasn't the only loose cannon at the club. Bosnian defender Emir Spahic was always the kind of guy you wouldn't want to mess with, and indeed just eight months after this game he was sacked by Bayer for headbutting a steward and punching another. Spahic picked up four red cards in four Bundesliga seasons and three dismissals in two Ligue 1 campaigns. The centre-back was already on a yellow card when he swung his forearm into Dost's face in the 82nd minute, and he was promptly dismissed.
Four-goal Dost has the final say
Buoyed by their sudden numerical superiority, Wolfsburg pushed for the winner, and it came with virtually the last kick of the game. Portuguese pocket-rocket Vierinha played in a delightful cross from the right, and like a scene from The Matrix, Dost moved while everyone else was a step behind. He darted to the near post and produced an acrobatic finish to bemuse and bamboozle Leno. The Bayer keeper looked at his gloves like a man who'd lost the winning lottery ticket, while Dost raced off, roaring in delight.
Wolfsburg got no closer to Bayern, finishing 10 points behind them in second. Dieter Hecking's team did finish that campaign with silverware though, as they beat Jurgen Klopp's Borussia Dortmund in the final of the DFB Cup, Klopp's ultimately unsatisfying swansong as Dortmund boss. Bayer recovered from the setback, winning seven of the next eight games, and went on to secure fourth spot and qualify for the Champions League.
So, there it is, folks. A 10-minute hat-trick, comebacks from 3-0 and 4-2 down that ultimately meant nothing, and a man who scored four goals including a last-gasp winner. As a solo radio commentator, I had nothing left after wrapping up the game, and I don't think I spoke to anyone for a few minutes afterwards. As my wife will tell you, shutting me up for any length of time takes some doing. That alone should show you that this was one of football's greatest ever games.
If you're not fully convinced - see for yourself!