DAVID SMITH - Thursday, August 25, 2016
Fabian Johnson returned to the Borussia Mönchengladbach starting lineup, as hat-tricks from Thorgan Hazard and Raffael assured their spot in the Champions League group stage in a 6-1 win over Bern.
Having already won the away leg over their overmatched Swiss opposition Young Boys Bern by a 3-1 margin, 'Gladbach's chance of clearing this final hurdle was nearly a foregone conclusion, however a blitz of goals provided the fireworks that the home crowd eagerly craved.
Shortly after Raffael came agonizingly close with an attempt that bounced off the upright, Hazard was off the mark in the ninth minute. Receiving the ball at the edge of the six-yard box with two defenders and the Bern keeper closing in, Hazard made a nifty spin to the left to create space and made easy work of his shot to the near post.
Raffael then continue the damage, adding a pair of his own before the half. His first was a low blast from the edge of the area in the 33rd minute, which was followed seven minutes later by a clinical chipped finish from the left to complete a well-executed counter.
Already knowing their position was secure, the Foals kept their foot on the gas, adding another three in the second half.
Hazard netted his second in the 64th minute, sneaking in behind the defense for an uncontested tap-in from a Raffael cross, then the Brazilian completed his hat-trick with 13 minutes remaining in regulation when he connected on Hazard's cross after the pair streaked past the shellshocked defense.
The flattened Swiss side did pull out an unexpected consolation two minutes later when Yoric Ravet opportunistically connected from distance after his free kick initially careened off the 'Gladbach wall.
However, the Germans assured they would have the final word, with Hazard amassing the team's second hat-trick with a bull-like charge on the Bern keeper and low shot int he 84th minute.
The Foals now await their draw for the group stage, which is set to take place on Friday afternoon. Having been seeded in the third pot based on their overall UEFA club coefficient, they are all but guaranteed to be in a group with two relative heavyweights.
The group stage will not begin until mid-September, before which they will face Bayer Leverkusen and Freiburg in Bundesliga play.