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Stuttgart clinch Bundesliga title

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STUTTGART, Germany -- VfB Stuttgart won the Bundesliga title on the final day of the season on Saturday when a 2-1 comeback win over Energie Cottbus kept them two points ahead of runners-up Schalke 04.

Stuttgart were trailing 1-0 to Cottbus after Sergiu Radu deflected a pass to beat Timo Hildebrand in the 19th minute but Thomas Hitzlsperger soon equalized and Sami Khedira scored the winner just past the hour to hand them their first Bundesliga title in 15 years.

Stuttgart won their final eight matches to erase a seven-point deficit, moving up from third to overtake Werder Bremen and Schalke in a stunning finish.

It was their fifth championship and third since the Bundesliga was founded in 1963.

"It's a tremendous feeling," said Stuttgart coach Armin Veh. "I'm thrilled for the team. They played consistently well and with passion all season."

The victory unleashed euphoric celebrations in Stuttgart -- at the Gottlieb Daimler stadium and in the center of the southwestern German city where tens of thousands followed the match at a World Cup-style public viewing area.

Stuttgart players poured beer and champagne on each other and coaches under bright blue skies. They celebrated with fans for more than an hour, climbing up onto fences before collecting the Bundesliga's championship "Schale" (dish).

"It's insane what's going on here," said Veh, who for superstitious reasons had not had his suit cleaned since September, when a 12-match unbeaten streak at home began.

Stuttgart now stand on the brink of a domestic double, with the Cup final to come against Nuremberg on May 26.

"I've always dreamed about a day like this," said Hitzlsperger, who equalized with a blazing long-range volley just before the half-hour that sent 56,000 fans into a frenzy.

"It's just fantastic, by far the greatest day in my life," added Hitzlsperger, a Germany midfielder who played at Aston Villa until 2005. "We've worked hard and got rewarded for it."

In between champagne and beer showers on the pitch, Hildebrand told arena television that Stuttgart had only set their sights on the championship at the end of the season.

Just crazy

"It's just crazy that we ended up winning it," he said. "We believed in our title chances more and more late in the season and kept getting better."

Schalke, who beat Arminia Bielefeld 2-1, finished second for the third time in seven years after again squandering the lead late in the season. They were also overtaken by Bayern Munich twice after stumbling in 2001 and 2005.

Schalke led the table for 15 of the 34 weeks but lost two of their last four matches. They took 18 points from the last 11.

They topped the standings for about nine minutes on Saturday when they stormed into an early 2-0 lead over Bielefeld while Stuttgart fell behind to Cottbus in their match some 300 kms away in southern Germany.

Schalke knew they could win the championship if they beat Bielefeld by four goals and Stuttgart only drew with Cottbus.

Lincoln put Schalke ahead 1-0 in the 12th minute and Halil Altintop doubled the lead four minutes later. But Schalke were unable to add to their lead and gave up a stoppage-time goal to Radim Kucera.

"I'm happy that we were able to give our fans some hope in the first half and that we were first for about nine minutes but it was still not enough," said Schalke coach Mirko Slomka.

"With eighth straight victories, congratulations to Stuttgart -- they deserved to win it," he added. "It's bitter. It shows you can't afford to give up any points."

Two second-half goals from Markus Rosenberg gave Werder Bremen a 2-0 victory at Wolfsburg as they finished in the third Champions League spot ahead of Bayern Munich.

Wolfsburg's defeat was followed by the sacking of coach Klaus Augenthaler after the side finished 15th in the Bundesliga and just avoided relegation. Augenthaler's contract ran through the 2008/09 season.

Aachen coach Michael Frontzeck announced his resignation after their 4-0 loss at Hamburg SV. Aachen, who were promoted this season, finished 17th and will return to the second division. Frontzeck had a contract through next season.


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