DFB Pokal Cup QuarterFinals this Week

The field of DFB Pokal Cup has been winnowed down to eight remaining teams from the 64 teams initially involved.  Tuesday’s matchup will feature two 1. Bundesliga clubs. FC Schalke 04 and 1. FC Nurnberg, doing battle, while Wednesday’s three contests will feature duels more of the David and Goliath nature, as 2. Bundesliga clubs try to topple top-tier Bundesliga teams.  At least all three 2. Bundesliga sides will have home field advantage, as MSV Duisburg host 1. FC Kaiserslautern, Energie Cottbus entertain 1899 Hoffenheim and Alemannia Aachen will try to withstand the onslaught of a lethal Bayern Munich side at their North Rhine-Westphalia home. ESPN3 will stream the Schalke -Nurnberg match Tuesday at 2:30 pm ET and the Alemannia Aachen-Bayern Munich tilt Wednesday at the same time.

FC Schalke 04 – 1. FC Nurberg

Tuesday’s tilt in Gelsenkirchen features a Schalke club currently 10th in the Bundesliga table against a Nurnberg side in 12th place, two points behind.  FC Schalke come off a 1-0 away victory Saturday against then 2nd-place Hannover 96.  Raul scored the game’s only goal, and Germany’s number one keeper, Manuel Neuer, kept the clean sheet against the 96ers.  Despite the mediocrity they’ve displayed in Bundesliga play this year,  a DFB Pokal Cup title in 2011 is within their reach and would be the first since 2002 for the Royal Blues. They certainly have the talent to grab the Cup,  even if they have yet to display the consistency of a championship club.

Nurnberg won the Cup title in 2007, and fans of Der Club would surely enjoy a repeat performance.  The Bavarian side defeated 3.Liga side Kickers Offenbach 2-0 last week in third round action, the game having to be rescheduled from its original pre-Christmas date because of weather issues.  Veteran Belgian defender/midfielder Timmy Simons, in his debut season for Dieter Hecking’s team, knocked in both goals for Nurnberg.  Der Club haven’t been great road warriors this season, only gaining one Bundesliga win in ten road matches, but they have garnered five draws on their travels.  Striker Julian Schieber leads Nurnberg with five goals in league play, with Ilkay Gundogan netting four times.

MSV Duisburg – 1. FC Kaiserslautern

Wednesday MSV Duisburg will welcome Kaiserslautern to Schauinsland-Reisen-Arena.  The Zebras of Duisburg have been around since 1902, and are currently in 3rd place in 2. Bundesliga.  Duisburg kicked off their return from winter break with an impressive 4-1 home win over Osnabruck, but stubbed their toe last Friday against lowly FC Ingolstadt 04 on the road, having to scramble for an 86th minute Olcay Sahan goal to salvage a point after American newcomer Edson Buddle had given Ingolstadt a 1-0 lead ten minutes earlier.  Duisburg have gotten a team leading seven goals from both forward Stefan Maierhoffer and Serbian Srjdan Baljak,  while Sahan has added six.  American David Yelldell is the regular in the Zebras’ goal, allowing 18 goals in 19 matches.  Duisburg defeated 1. Bundesliga side FC Koln to advance in Cup play, so one knows they are capable.

Kaiserslautern arrive in the quarterfinals after their 4-1 over TuS Koblenz in a game that was also rescheduled from before Christmas to last week because of snow.  Croatian forward Srjdan Lakic powered Kaiserslautern to Cup victory with three goals against Koblenz.  The Red Devils co-captain was unavailable for this week’s Bundesliga matchup with Bayern Munich due to red-card suspension, and his absence was apparent as Die Bayern spanked Kaiserslautern 5-1.  Marco Kurz’ Red Devils have performed well-enough in their return to Germany’s top-tier this season, after a four season absence, to seem able to avoid the relegation drop.  Kaiserslautern won the Cup twice in the 1990s, and their match with Duisburg should be a good one.

Energie Cottbus – 1899 Hoffenheim

Energie Cottbus’ Stadion Der Freundschaft (the Stadium of Friendship) will be the site of their Cup match with Hoffenheim, but I doubt Energie Cottbus will define friendship Wednesday as allowing Hoffenheim to leave with a win.  Cottbus, founded in 1963, are in a logjam of five 2. Bundesliga clubs tied with 34 points behind league leaders Hertha Berlin and FC Augsburg.  Cottbus knocked off VfL Wolfsburg in December to gain the Cup quarterfinals, but their form following winter break has been iffy, as they lost away to Fortuna Dusseldorf before scraping together a 2-1 win overly woeful Arminia Bielefeld at home Saturday.  Twenty two year-old forward Nils Petersen leads the club with 13 goals in 19 matches, while Thorsten Kirchbaum has started every Cottbus match between the sticks, but has allowed 27 goals this season.

1899 Hoffenheim are a team adrift at the moment.  Following the departure of coach Ralf Ragnick over winter break following the sale of rising star Luis Gustavo, things in Hoffenheim have been turbulent, especially given that Rangnick’s replacement, former assistant Marco Pezzaiuoli, has also had to deal with the turmoil surrounding want-to -leave forward Demba Ba.  Ba went on strike over winter break, demanding a transfer to England and refusing to come to training camp.  The Hoff have been slow coming out of winter break, losing to Werder Bremen on a late goal and barely scrounging a point against St. Pauli Sunday when a David Alaba deflected shot found its way past St. Pauli’s Thomas Kessler.  Hoffenheim dominated the first half of that match, but only netted once and St. Pauli showed better in the 2nd half.  Something good needs to happen for this team soon, and a win Wednesday would be at least a taste of the tonic that ailing Hoffenheim need.

Alemannia Aachen-FC Bayern Munich

Alemannia Aachen’s New Tivoli grounds hold more than 32,000 fans, and hopefully the stands will be full for the Potato Beetles matchup with the Bavarian bad-boys of Munich.  Aachen have spent most of the recent past in 2. Bundesliga, with the exception of one year, the 2006-2007 season, in the Bundesliga.  Aachen are mid-table this season, sitting in 10th place 12 points behind Hertha Berlin.  Aachen were able to dispatch Eintracht Frankfurt on penalties in December to get to the Cup quarterfinals, and have four points in their two matches since winter break.  Aachen have never won the Cup, but have been runner-ups three times, including their last time in the finals in 2004, where they lost to Werder Bremen.

Aachen have the misfortune of drawing Bayern Munich, winner of fifteen Cup titles, in the quarterfinal round.  As noted above, Bayern Munich came up with a sparkling 5-1 win this weekend, propelling them to fourth place in the table after a miserable start in a season marred by inconsistency and injury.  Mario Gomez has regained his scoring prowess that was mislaid since arriving at Munich from VfB Stuttgart, where he averaged a goal every other game over six seasons.  Gomez has scored 15 times in 17 league appearances this season,  even with five of those appearances coming off the bench.  With Arjen Robben healthy, Louis van Gaal’s club are looking capable of scaling the heights and planting their flag atop the mountain’s peak.  If they can avoid the dreaded inconsistency that plagued their Hinrunde Bundesliga play, the Bavarians look to be favorites to take the DFB Cup for the sixteenth time in club history.

This should be a compelling quarterfinal round, and I can’t wait for the Cup games to begin.

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Gerry Wittmann

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