DAVID SMITH - Friday, August 5, 2016
John Brooks and Hertha suffered an embarrassing defeat at Danish club Brøndby on Thursday, crashing out of their European adventure at the very first step with the aggregate loss.
Needing only a draw to protect their 1-0 lead from the first leg, Hertha fell victim to a hat-trick by Finnish National Team striker Teemu Pukki to lose heavily 3-1 on the night, and overall by a 3-2 aggregate score.
Brooks started in the center of defense, as usual, alongside Sebastian Langkamp, and picked up a yellow card in the dying moments of second-half injury time for remonstrating too fervently with the referee.
Barely after Pawel Gil had blown his whistle to begin the proceedings, Brøndby had already found a way to overcome their first-leg deficit.
An third-minute shot by Kamil Wilczek was blocked by Hertha keeper Thomas Kraft directly into the path of Hany Mukhtar. The German youth player quickly hit a short cross in front of goal which Pukki easily chested over the line for the 1-0 lead.
The Hertha traveling contingent had reason to cheer at the half hour, when Peter Pekarik had time and space on the right flank to fire in a perfect cross for Vedad Ibisevic to head in for the equalizer.
While considerably less spectacular than his highlight-reel goal in the first leg, Ibisevic's goal did put the hosts in the unenviable position of needing to score two goals in order to overcome Hertha's away-goals advantage.
However, the next 20-plus minutes of play saw them grab the game by the throat, taking the initiative to fight back against the odds.
Four minutes after Hertha's equalizer, Pukki struck again to reduce the target to a single goal. Marvin Plattenhardt mistimed a sliding attempt to clear a pass from Wilczek, deflecting the ball directly into perfect position for Pukki to net his second with a left-footed shot past the helpless Kraft.
The comeback was completed seven minutes after the halftime break, with Pukki again forcing Kraft to fish the ball out of his net. This time, a smart play by Mukhtar unexpectedly placed the ball at Wilczek's feet on the left side of the penalty area, and his short cross was enough for Pukki to complete his hat-trick from close range.
Despite their better efforts over the last 40-plus minutes, Hertha were unable to break through for the lone goal they needed to regain the advantage. A final full frontal assault in added time came up empty-handed, with Brøndby celebrating an unexpected victory at the final whistle.
The loss mercifully allows Hertha to focus completely on their domestic season. They will begin competitive play in two weeks with a tricky DFB Pokal visit to Jahn Regensburg, and start their Bundesliga season one week later with a home game against promoted SC Freiburg.