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Funkel out to arrest Hertha's freefall

Already seven points adrift of safety in the Bundesliga, the outlook is bleak at Hertha BSC Berlin but for Friedhelm Funkel the solution is simple: "When you are down, you have to get back up again."

The Hertha bench has had little reason to cheer in recent weeks
The Hertha bench has had little reason to cheer in recent weeks ©Getty Images

Hertha BSC Berlin are already in a scrap for their Bundesliga lives, but as they prepare to meet FK Ventspils in the UEFA Europa League their European campaign is offering a ray of light. "When you're down on the ground you have to get back up again," said Friedhelm Funkel.

Forward thinking
The 3-1 loss at home to Eintracht Frankfurt at the weekend was their eleventh in 14 Bundesliga games and a dire day was compounded by a shoulder injury to captain Arne Friedrich which will keep him out of Thursday's tie. "Defeats like Saturday's hurt, but these things happen in football and we have to keep fighting," said Funkel. "By Monday we were already feeling better."

Hard work
Hertha have not won in the league since the opening day and are already seven points from safety. Yet while their domestic situation is perilous, in Europe they know a place in the knockout phase is still theirs for the taking. Hertha are second in Group D, six points behind Sporting Clube de Portugal, but ahead of SC Heerenveen on head-to-head record and one above Ventspils. "The team worked hard to get into Europe and if there's a chance of qualifying for the next stage we have to aim for it," said Funkel.

In their last UEFA Europa League outing Hertha twice came from behind at Heerenveen before clinching victory thanks to Artur Wichniarek's last-minute winner. That spirit and determination will be crucial if they are to turn their season around. "Obviously the Bundesliga is our priority at the moment, but we would like to keep on playing international football," added Funkel. "We aim to show we have not given up yet – we're determined to give it our best shot. Ventspils are a solid team built on a strong defence and very effective at set-pieces."

Free fall
Hertha's plight is a far cry from last term when they were in the thick of the title race before trailing off in the closing stages. They were knocked off top spot on 4 April and were ultimately forced to settle for fourth. Since then the departures of Andriy Voronin, Marko Pantelić and Josip Simunić, as well as a succession of injuries, have been keenly felt and just a few months after flirting with the UEFA Champions League Hertha are facing the drop.

Few highlights
Funkel has a reputation as the man to turn to in a crisis, but having replaced Lucien Favre at the end of September he has failed to steer Hertha to calmer waters. His only victory so far came at Heerenveen, and with powerhouses FC Schalke 04, Bayer 04 Leverkusen and FC Bayern München to play before the winter break, victory in Riga could be a timely tonic.