Viva America! 1. FC Köln States its Case to Become America’s (German) Team



Sung to the tune of Twisted Sister’s “We’re not gonna take it,” the 1. FC Köln fans who had travelled to Jacksonville, Florida’s EverBank serenaded their conquering heroes in the wake of Saturday’s tournament clinching 3-2 victory over Fluminense of Brazil, making Köln the first-ever winner of the Florida Cup, which captain Matthias Lehmann brought with him as he and his teammates moved to celebrate their successful stateside debut with the red-and-white clad supporters gathered at the edge of the seating area.

Köln had beat Corinthians 1:0 Thursday night. Their two victories paired with Leverkusen’s 3:0 downing of Fluminense in the tournament opener to give Germany nine points total to put against Brazil’s three, making Germany the victor in the “battle of nations” segment of the Florida Cup. Because Köln had more points than their “teammate,” they will be cup holders.

Though the tournament is comprised entirely of test matches between clubs preparing for league competition, the competition format lent an edge not normally found in winter break. Hence, one of the most oft-repeated ideas throughout the week in Florida was, “when there is a cup at stake, you want to win it.”

America loves a winner, but America also loves a plucky underdog. The 1. FC Köln, a second-division side less than a year ago, was perhaps the longest-shot to take tournament honors, if only because the Billy Goats were originally not even meant to be part of the competition. Borussia Mönchengladbach, Köln’s biggest traditional rival, was originally slated to represent Germany alongside Bayer Leverkusen. When die Fohlen ultimately decided against participating in the fledgling event, Köln willingly accepted the invitation to replace them, even as a second choice and even without recent European competition on their resume.

Köln then crashed the party completely by being the only club to win both its matches, even though they’d entered the final match of the event needing but a single point to deliver titles. Both German sides had been victorious Thursday evening, meaning Leverkusen and Köln needed but one more point to clinch national honors for Germany. Because Bayer dropped Saturday’s opening match 2:1 to Corinthians, it was left to Köln to secure both the nations title, but also provided the team with the knowledge they would leave the United States with hardware if they could get at least one point.

Corinthians’ victory, though, also meant both Brazil and Fluminense had opportunity to dramatically snatch honors for themselves with a decisive result over 1. FC Köln.

Just five minutes into the match, Fluminense appeared motivated to convert the opportunity when Edson connected with a free kick crossed in front of Timo Horn’s goal. The Köln keeper managed to get his hands on the ball, but could not shove it away from the goal line and the Brazilians had the early lead.

Three minutes later, though, Anthony Ujah delivered a header of his own to send a Matthias Lehmann corner delivery into the goal for the equalizer.

And Köln would never again relinquish their hold on the trophy.

Bård Finne, who earlier in the day had been the subject of a rumored loan to 1860 München, gave Köln a lead when he collected the rebound of his chipped shot off the crossbar and drove it decisively into the net. Daniel Halfar’s laser from outside the penalty area in the 65th minute streaked below the crossbar to make it 3:1.

Fluminense’s Walter cut the lead again to one with a 70th minute goal, but Köln controlled the bulk of play for the final 2o minutes to complete their victory tour on US soil.

Captain Matthias Lehmann receives the hardware on behalf of 1. FC Köln
Captain Matthias Lehmann receives the hardware on behalf of 1. FC Köln

After the match, Köln coach Peter Stöger, who started 22 players in Köln’s two matches,  repeated his mantra of he and his club focusing more on their preparations for the Rückrunde than on tournament results.

“It’s good for morale, but it doesn’t bring any points for the Bundesliga,” clarified Stöger after the match. “but, despite that, it’s a nice feeling to have just won the first Florida Cup.”

“We are really proud.”

Part of the pride that comes from winning a title usually comes with an opportunity to later defend that title as holders of it.

Yet, due to the desires of organizers to make the event a multi-national annual tournament, the return of German clubs, much less either of this year’s participants, is completely up in the air. Florida Cup founder Ricardo Villar wasn’t sure how plans for the future would allow for a return of a defending champion, but indicated that he had already been satisfied that the 1. FC Köln was happy with their time in Florida, “and they want to come back.”

But if you ask one particular Kölsche Jung, fans in Cologne may want to start planning for January 2016 travel to the United States.

“Of course!” responded Anthony Ujah gleefully when asked whether the champions should receive an automatic invite next year. “The people want to see the champions again. In every football tournament, the champion returns.”

Ujah quickly shifted back to focusing on the battle against relegation that awaits his club when they return to competition at the end of January.

“It’s been fun so far, and if the organisers think we deserve to come again, fine, we’re happy to come. It’s been a good experience and good preparation for the second round of our season. We’re happy to win the trophy, but, most importantly, it gives us some confidence.”

But does Ujah believe his club is ready to start winning American fans?

“We just beat two good Brazilian football teams,” said Ujah. “That’s something that should send a message out there.”

“Before the tournament, we were the underdogs because Leverkusen just beat us in Germany and Corinthians and Fluminense are well-known teams around the world. We showed good character and the unity that kept us in good position in the first round in the Bundesliga. That’s the message we want to send to the people of America, so hopefully they follow us in the second round and give us some support from here.”

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Randall Hauk is a freelance writer living in the United States while covering German football. He is currently the publisher of Planet Effzeh, an English-language site covering 1. FC Köln. He wrote about the German national team for the Telegraph as part of their World Cup Nation coverage.

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