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Soccer-Huntelaar treble ends Schalke crisis, Bayern march on

Reuters

* Bayern set league record with 16th straight win

* Schalke tighten hold on fourth spot

* Augsburg edge past Gladbach (Updates with quotes, details)

BERLIN, March 8 (Reuters) - Dutch striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar scored a hat-trick and had a penalty saved as Schalke 04 recovered from last week's heavy defeats to beat Hoffenheim 4-0 on Saturday and tighten their hold on fourth spot.

Leaders Bayern Munich's unstoppable march towards retaining the Bundesliga title continued with Thomas Mueller and Mario Mandzukic grabbing two goals each as they demolished hosts VfL Wolfsburg 6-1 for a league record 16th consecutive victory.

Schalke, who had lost 6-1 to Real Madrid in the Champions League and 5-1 to Bayern in the league last week, grabbed a two-goal cushion with Huntelaar tapping in from close range in the sixth minute and rifling home from 18 metres in the 28th.

He failed to get a first-half treble when he chipped a weak penalty into the hands of goalkeeper Koen Casteels but Chinedu Obasi did make it 2-0 after the break, drilling the ball in after a superb Kevin-Prince Boateng pass in the 55th.

Huntelaar, injured for much of the season, completed his hat-trick in the 79th as fourth-placed Schalke moved level on 44 points with Bayer Leverkusen, who were held to a 1-1 draw at Hanover 96, and five clear of Wolfsburg in fifth on 39.

"My players had to soak up a lot of criticism after last week's losses and they had said they would bounce back," said Schalke coach Jens Keller. "They did that impressively today."

Bayern lead the standings with 68 points from 24 games with Leverkusen failing to take second place from Borussia Dortmund, who have 45 points before their visit to Freiburg on Sunday.

Bayern, who host Arsenal in the Champions League last 16 with a 2-0 advantage next week, widened the gap at the top by storming past Wolfsburg in a dazzling second half.

"We were not as dominant as in the last games," said Bayern coach Pep Guardiola after their slow start. "Wolfsburg were well organised and aggressive and we had problems with that in the first half. But at the end it was us who scored the goals."

SLEEPY OPENING

With Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery both in the lineup for the first time since October last year, Bayern, rotating with Mueller and Xherdan Shaqiri back as well, had a sleepy start.

Wolfsburg's Brazilian defender Naldo slid in to connect with a Kevin De Bruyne cross at the far post to give the hosts a deserved 17th-minute lead but Shaqiri levelled after a goalmouth scramble in the 26th with the goal initially awarded to Mueller.

Mueller joked: "The referee told me at halftime (it was not my goal). That ruined my day but then I scored two more goals."

Bayern needed an hour to peak with Mueller and Mandzukic each scoring twice and Ribery on target as well in an explosive five-goal 17-minute spell that left Wolfsburg's defence in shreds.

The Wolves had managed to contain the Bavarians for about an hour before surrendering to their quick breaks with Robben setting up two of the goals.

VfB Stuttgart conceded a late equaliser in their relegation battle against Eintracht Braunschweig to draw 2-2 and are hovering above the relegation zone.

Augsburg continued their fine run with an 81st minute winner by Tobias Werner to edge Borussia Moenchengladbach 2-1 and stay in sixth, on course for a European spot. (Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Rex Gowar and Ken Ferris)

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