Bebou seals narrow Hoffenheim win over struggling Mainz
MAINZ, Germany (Reuters) - Hoffenheim substitute Ihlas Bebou scored with almost his first touch as they beat Bundesliga strugglers Mainz 1-0 away on Saturday to boost their hopes of qualifying for European football next season.
Bebou came on in the 38th minute for the injured Jacob Bruun Larsen and slotted home four minutes later against the run of play after collecting Diadie Samassekou's ball over the top of the Mainz midfield.
Victory drew Hoffenheim level on 42 points with VfL Wolfsburg, but kept them seventh in the Bundesliga on goal difference, while Mainz stayed in 15th place, a point above the bottom three, after their fifth game in a row without victory.
The visitors also had a first-half penalty when Christoph Baumgartner was brought down in the Mainz box, but keeper Florian Mueller got down well to deny Steven Zuber from the spot.
Mainz had several chances to take the lead in the first half and Hoffenheim keeper Oliver Baumann had to be quick out of his box to clear inches ahead of Robin Quaison after the forward was released through the middle by Jean-Philippe Mateta in the 21st minute.
Baumann palmed away another Quaison effort following a corner a few minutes later and Hoffenheim were fortunate not to concede after the 26-year-old Swede rattled the inside of the post from a free kick seven minutes after Zuber's penalty miss.
The home team put the ball in the back of the net in the 60th minute, but Taiwo Awoniyi's effort was ruled out after team mate Karim Onisiwo was adjudged to have blocked off Baumann.
Awoniyi felt he should have won a penalty minutes later when Baumann bundled him over in the box, but the referee turned a deaf ear to his pleas.
Mueller did well to deny Maximilian Beier late in the second half and stop Hoffenheim extending their lead, while at the other end Ridle Baku's powerful strike in stoppage time was deflected over the bar as Mainz slumped to a dispiriting defeat.
(Reporting by Simon Jennings in Bengaluru; Editing by Toby Davis)