Last year at about this time, I used this space to announce my love for the first round of the DFB Cup competition. There’s not much call for a rehash, especially as you can just go read it if you’re interested, but, in short, the idea of smaller clubs with rosters full amateurs, hosting some of the world’s best footballers for a match that actually counts is many-fold more interesting to me than some of the silly so-called “super” cups held this week.
I feel certain there is a certain type of fan who finds the early stages of this competition just as silly as I found the “not a friendly, a final” posturing of Pep Guardiola with regards to the mid-week friendly for a “Cup” title. They like to see big names on both the front and back of the shirts.
And that’s fine. We can and shall co-exist in this sports-fan realm. I can also get into the battles of the big boys from time to time.
I just happen to be a sucker for the underdog stuff, in general.
But even beyond what happens for a few hours at a time at each of 32 different football pitches throughout Germany this weekend is the daydreaming about slapping together an itinerary focused on taking in as many football matches in four days as possible, but also visiting some of Germany’s smaller towns, learning about their histories, especially with regard to their local clubs and venues. In addition to the underdog angle, I’m a sucker for travel, history, and sociology.
I might be tempted to sample the local brews as well, because, well, I’m also a sucker for Bier!
But not as much as I’m a sucker for German football, in general. It’s what brought me here. It’s likely what brought you here. So, let’s get to the match-ups and all that.
The Big Prize
With exceptions for derbies and/or historic rivalries, almost every club on the “hosts” side of the draw have the same hopes for when their opponent lot is drawn, which is to be granted a visit from FC Bayern München, with Borussia Dortmund having established themselves as choice 1A, should the record champions already be off the table. After that, any of the vaunted “traditional clubs” will do.
The reason behind such hopes is fairly self-evident. Even for the 3. Liga clubs, but especially for those coming from a Regionalliga or even deeper down the German footballing pyramid, clubs know the odds of tournament runs are stacked against them high enough to make the allure of one big football festival on the opening match with a world-famous opponent bringing a big cash windfall bigger than that of maybe getting a struggling second-league side to set-up a second cup match.
I suppose the exception might be the club who figures they can and will knock off someone in the first round and then hope to get the visit from the big boys, but I’ve never heard that particular strategy voiced. Generally, if a club official is asked who they hope to draw, Bayern and the BVB each get a mention.
This year, a pair of 3. Liga sides, SC Preußen Münster and Stuttgarter Kickers, were this year’s lottery winners, as it were.
Münster, which will host FC Bayern Saturday afternoon, has one thing Germany’s most-dominant club can never have: status as an original member of the Bundesliga. Of course, Bayern can comfort themselves with 24 Bundseliga titles, any one of which their first-round opponents might gladly accept in exchange for that single 1963-64 15th-place Bundesliga finish and subsequent relegation.
Stuttgarter Kickers also have limited Bundesliga experience in their history, finishing 17th in both the 1988-89 and 1991-92 seasons. losing thrice and drawing once to their Saturday afternoon visitor, whom they will receive at home of cross-town rival VfB Stuttgart.
Monday night’s nationally televised first-round finale will face the Bundesliga’s third automatic qualifier for the Champions League, Schalke 04, against recently relegated to 3. Liga Dynamo Dresden.
Other clubs landing visits from traditional members of the Bundesliga are
The Heaviest Underdogs
Without question, the Kickers from Stuttgart and Preußen Münster are facing incredibly tall tasks, but if you rank all the cup participants from 1 to 64, no club is facing a larger gap between itself and its opponent than SV Alemannia Waldalgesheim when last year’s 17th place finisher in Oberliga Rheinland-Pfalz/Saar welcomes last year’s fourth-place Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen.
Rather than host the Champions League qualifier in their usual 2,000-seat home, Stadion an der Waldstraße, Waldalgesheim will borrow the former home of FSV Mainz 05, Stadion am Bruchweg, which means anyone travelling to the match and hoping to also see the carports where Alemannia sometimes holds flea markets would have to make a side trip west by 30-some kilometers from the match venue.
Hey, there is nothing wrong with a flea market! Not everyone can have a major pharmaceutical company as a benefactor.
On my list the clubs in order of finish, there are 57 clubs between these Friday night combatants, though there are two clubs which managed to reach the tournament despite toiling in leagues below the Oberliga last season.
SV Waldkirch is the only club in the tournament to play in Germany’s sixth tier last season and continue to do so this season, having managed but an eighth-place finish in Verbandsliga Südbaden in 2013-14. The Breisgau will travel about 25 kilometers to Bahlingen where they hope to give SpVgg Greuther Fürth a better game than they got in Monday’s Frankenderby.
The Greater Glory
USC Paloma, which was promoted to Oberliga Hamburg after finishing second in Landesliga Hammonia in 2013-14, gets a chance to be a people’s champion when it faces former small-timers 1899 Hoffenheim. Without an incredibly wealthy club member arriving to boost Paloma from obscurity, the next-best thing for which they can hope is to defeat one of the top sides the rest of the nation seem to relish hating.
Despite the fact they are about to be a Bundsliga side and are playing a club from the division below them, SC Paderborn has an opportunity to endear themselves to the nation’s neutrals on the even of their Bundesliga debut if they can defeat RB Leipzig, perhaps the only club currently capable of engendering more disdain than Hoffenheim.
The Road Warriors
Karlsruher SC and 1860 München are the two clubs facing round trips of over 1600 kilometers. The KSC heads about 800 kilometers toward the Polish border to face FC Neubrandenburg Sunday, while 1860 traverses Germany from south to north, covering nearly 900 kilometers toward the Danish border to call on Holstein Kiel. Long road trips are easier when you’re coming off a victory, as KSC is after a 2:3 thriller in Frankfurt. For the Lions of München, who’ve lost both their league matches by surrendering six consecutive goals, that’s a lot of time to think about your footballing fortunes.
One of the teams that defeated 1860, 1. FC Kaiserslautern, gets the shortest trip of the first round, with fewer than 95 kilometers needed for them to get to their match with SV Wehen Wiesbaden. Awaiting the Red Devils will be not only the current Wiesbaden side, but also many members of the club side that lost a cup match to Kaiserslautern on a foggy December 1988 day.
Ripe for the Picking?
When Chemnitz FC drew FSV Mainz 05, excitement for the match could reasonably have centered on getting a club competing in Europe, as Mainz got a qualification spot in Europa League. Now that Mainz was unceremoniously bounced from that competition, and Chemnitz is off to a strong start and topping the 3. Liga table, it would be reasonable for the CFC to think they might be able to do to their Friday night guests what Greek side Asteras Tripolis did and continue to make the adjustment from the Thomas Tuchel era in Mainz a tough one.
Top sides adjusting to new leadership can also sometimes find themselves on the wrong end of a great first-round story by dropping the new coach’s first competitive match to a lower-league side which has already had opportunity to knock off the early-season rust with a few match days under their belt. Viktoria Berlin will look to spoil the Eintracht Frankfurt debut of Thomas Schaaf, while the man who left Frankfurt for VfB Stuttgart, Armin Veh, will need to survive the hot-starting VfL Bochum led by Peter Neuruer to a surprise early residence atop the 2. Bundesliga table.
Fool me once . . .
On the flip side of the first-round upsets, is the fact that when a Bundesliga side does suffer the surprise early exit, they usually arrive the following year with that extra awareness of how a lower-league side can, indeed, come away the victor.
With that in mind, FC Homburg and FV Illertissen will have to dig a little bit deeper to dispatch Borussia Mönchengladbach and Werder Bremen, respectively, as both sides are coming off first-round exits in last year’s tournament.
and so many others . . .
With 32 matches, it’s difficult to put one’s arms around all of them in a single article, but that should not be taken to mean anything other than there is a limitation on space and time. We can and should all be thankful for this weekend’s appetizer to the opening of Bundesliga season that follows.