Hertha BSC Berlin gave their fans a warm glow in the wintry German capital by beating Sporting Clube de Portugal 1-0 to progress to the UEFA Europa League knockout stages.
Given their superior head-to-head record against SC Heerenveen, Hertha knew a point would be enough to see them join Group D winners Sporting in the round of 32. However, the Bundesliga's basement side again belied their miserable domestic form thanks to Gojko Kačar's 70th-minute goal at an Olympiastadion frosted with the first snowfall of winter.
Whether from a desire to drive their side on or simply a need to keep warm on a bitterly cold evening, the Hertha fans provided boisterous backing from kick-off. Their team, though, made a cautious start, and Christoph Janker – in at centre-back for injured captain Arne Friedrich – twice had to move smartly to cut out promising balls destined for Carlos Saleiro.
Hertha, though, eventually warmed to their task. Cícero narrowly failed to connect with Artur Wichniarek's intelligent knock down in front of goal before Kačar twice tested Rui Patrício. The hosts' growing confidence should have taken a blow just before the break when Bruno Pereirinha's penetrating burst and perceptive pass deserved better than to see the unmarked Marat Izmailov skew a close-range shot high over the bar.
Hertha's enterprise would finally pay off with 20 minutes left. Sporting's failure to fully clear a corner had seen Rui Patrício's outstretched leg turn behind a well-struck Adrián Ramos shot, and from the resulting set-piece the visitors proved they had not learned their lesson. Another half-clearance allowed Łukasz Piszczek to cross and Kačar bundled the ball into the net from close range. Jaroslav Drobný's sharp reflex save from Saleiro's shot in the closing stages ensured Heerenveen's 5-0 defeat of FK Ventspils was in vain.
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