Germany: Mario Gomez leads Bayern Munich past Hoffenheim
Germany striker Mario Gomez took advantage of a rare start to give Bundesliga leader Bayern Munich a hard-fought 1-0 win at relegation candidate Hoffenheim on Sunday.
Bayern winger Frank Ribery headed on Javi Martinez's header for Gomez to flick past goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes with his second touch in the 38th minute.
Bayern maintained its 17-point lead over defending champion Borussia Dortmund after equaling the Bundesliga record for 11 away wins in a season with the side's 20th from 24 games overall.
"It was a very difficult game, a hard-fought win,'' said Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes. "It wasn't brilliant or pretty.''
Munich-born Daniel Williams created Hoffenheim's best chances in the first half, with the U.S. international hitting the side-netting, firing wide and drawing a good save from former teammate Tom Starke.
But the home side ran out of steam in the second half, when Bayern midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger hit the crossbar and then the post from successive free kicks.
Fortuna Duesseldorf drew 1-1 with Mainz in Sunday's late game.
The home side took the lead through Mainz defender Bo Svensson's own goal in the eighth minute, but Ivan Klasnic equalized in the 41st with a point blank header after Fabian Giefer had been unable to hold onto Marco Caligiuri's cross.
Heynckes rewarded reserve goalkeeper Starke by picking him instead of Germany `keeper Manuel Neuer to face his former side. Starke, a fan favorite at Hoffenheim, was welcomed with banners thanking him for his two seasons at the club.
"He's been working hard, he's a great professional and he deserved it,'' Heynckes said. "Manuel was totally in agreement.''
The 67-year-old Heynckes also made further rotations with Jerome Boateng, Xherdan Shaqiri and Gomez starting in place of Daniel van Buyten, Toni Kroos and Mario Mandzukic, respectively.
Dutch winger Arjen Robben was ruled out due to a calf injury but Ribery was back after suspension for Wednesday's 1-0 German Cup win over Dortmund.
Hoffenheim coach Marco Kurz made six changes to the side that lost to fellow relegation candidate Augsburg the week before.
His side started with commitment and Bayern struggled to create chances until Igor de Camargo lost possession in midfield and Martinez launched the ball forward for Ribery to set up the goal.
Gomes denied Philipp Lahm's effort shortly afterward, with the rebound falling kindly for the defence with Bayern players lurking.
The visitors could have added more in the second half, only to be denied by a combination of Gomes and the goal frame.
The loss leaves Hoffenheim 11 points from safety and five behind Augsburg in the relegation playoff place.
"The team delivered everything. It was a very hard game, especially in the second half,'' said Kurz, whose side next faces bottom side Greuther Fuerth. "The team never gave up, that was important.''