Cut adrift at the foot of the Bundesliga they may be, but Hertha BSC Berlin defender Steve Von Bergen told uefa.com the German side were always optimistic of making strides in the UEFA Europa League.
The capital club are bottom of their domestic league, a sizeable seven points from safety, after winning just once in 16 outings this term. Yet Hertha are having no such trouble on the European stage, a 1-0 defeat of Sporting Clube de Portugal representing Friedhelm Funkel's team's third successive Group D win, assuring them a safe passage into the round of 32 along with their Portuguese opponents.
"We were confident. In spite of the situation in the Bundesliga, we knew that in our last two Europa League matches we'd picked up six points. We knew we needed just another to go through and we went into the game with optimism," said Swiss international Von Bergen, whose team's superior head-to-head record meant a draw in their final group encounter would have been sufficient to pip SC Heerenveen to second. "We said to ourselves it was our number one objective to qualify when we saw Ventspils, Heerenveen and Sporting in the group. We had a very bad start with just one point after three matches. We knew it was going to be hard, but we won our last three games. It's great to have done that."
An untidy Gojko Kačar goal 20 minutes from time proved enough to ensure Sporting, who had already secured top spot, left snow-covered Berlin nursing a first defeat in this season's group stage. Von Bergen admitted the result makes Hertha's final match before the winter break – a testing trip to UEFA Champions League contenders FC Bayern München on Saturday – a little less daunting than it would have been had it been accompanied by the disappointment of a European exit. "We have to focus on the Bundesliga, that's our first priority, but we battled all last year to try and get into European competition and we managed to achieve it," added the 26-year-old. "
It's the icing on the cake, a little something extra, and getting through to the knockout stages will give the side a lot of confidence."
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