October 24, 2017

Bundesliga This and That: Random Thoughts on our Favorite League, Pokal Edition

This hasn’t exactly been a Bundesliga week.  It’s been a Pokal week.

A week before the first division of German football kicks off, the DFB (Deutsche Fussball Liga) administers the first round of the DFB Pokal, Germany’s FA Cup.  The 36 professional clubs (Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2 clubs), along with the 3.Liga clubs (not including the reserve sides competing in the third division). The remaining slots are given to the cup winners of the regional football associations, the and clubs from the three regional associations with the most men’s teams. They may assign the slot as they see fit but usually give it to the runner up in the association cup. As every team is entitled to participate in local tournaments which qualify for the association cups every team can in principle compete in the DFB-Pokal. I think I have this basically right.

That’s the essential makeup of the group of clubs competing in the annual Pokal — needless to say a wide gap in talent and money exist between the world’s club elites, such as Bayern Munich and the relatively tiny village clubs that qualify, giving the possibility of David slaying Goliath upsets that enthrall fans (excepting fans of the Goliath slain).  The first Pokal tournament was held in 1935, with 1.FC Nürnberg the champions, and this year’s.first round kicked off Friday with three matches and ends Monday with the final four matches of the round — the other 25 Pokal matches were played either Saturday or Sunday.

We’ve had some Goliaths slain so far in the 2015/2016 first round.  Hamburger SV, the only club never relegated from the original Bundesliga of 1963, have had little but woe to dine on in recent years, very narrowly escaping that first relegation the last two seasons. Another bowl of gruel was served, cold and thin, to HSV fans Sunday, as FC Carl Zeis Jena’s Johannes Pieles broke a 2-2 deadlock in the 106th minute, breaking HSV hearts in the process. Additional upsets have been few, although first-division TSG 1899 Hoffenheim were dumped by Bundesliga 2’s 1860 Munich, another club that barely escaped relegation last year, and thus great news for the downtrodden blue side of Munich.  These victories were the two most notable upsets — there have been a few more, but basically by clubs recently demoted against a club from their former league.

The really cool part of the tournament, for me at least, is getting a view of the lower-division grounds and the underdog fans whooping it up for their team.  That essence was displayed on Sunday as Germany’s elite club, Bayern Munich, was hosted by Baden-Württemberg fifth division side FC Nöttingen.  What I find so cool is that moment, before kickoff, when banners are exchanged by the captains, Timo Brenner, 25, of Nöttingen, and Philipp Lahm, a man who not only epitomizes all that’s great about Bayern but also has won every footballing trophy imaginable.

The two shook hands, two men from essentially two different worlds — the famous and wealthy Lahm and captain Brenner, who has only played for his present club and the also-obscure VfR Pzorheim, a much humbler CV (I mean no disrespect whatsoever to Nöttingen or its captain).  Yet these two men met, on the field, as equals –Captains. Sport can be many things, some distasteful, but it is an equalizer at its best.

Only one 5th division German side (SV Ulm) have ever made it to the second round of the Pokal in its nearly 80 year run, so realistic hope was not a commodity in abundance for supporters of the Nöttingen men.  And less than five minutes after kickoff, a handball foul gave Bayern a PK opportunity, which Copa America champion Arturo Vidal roofed in to the right of goalkeeper Robin Kraski to give the Bavarians a quick lead.

Yet…yet….. the club with Panoramastadion home grounds seating 3,800 (the match was played at Karlsruhe’s much larger Wildparkatadion) found an equalizer, when Bayern’s  David Alaba (Austria’s Footballer of the Year, for several years running now) got turned wrong in coverage. A resultant pass to Nöttingen forward Niklas Hecht-Zirpel resulted in a shot parried by Bayern’s Sven Ulreich in goal.  But, there was a rebound. And another Hecht-Zirpel shot.  And. A. Nöttingen goal !!!!!!

Seventeen minutes in, FC Nöttingen were level with one of the giant clubs on our planet. Equal.  Hecht-Zirpel’s shot nutmegged Ulreich, and the forward who has played at all levels with Nöttingen (and whose two brothers play on the club’s reserve team) will be famous in the region forever.

Fairytales, though, are just that.  Bayern have only once allowed a goal competing against a 5th division competition, and Nöttingen’s equal footing on the pitch with the Bavarians disappeared in a blink, as World-Cup Final gamewinner Mario Gotze equalized (too) quickly, perhaps catching the Nöttingen men too caught-up in euphoria. Three-time Bundesliga champion Robert Lewandowski made it 1-3 Bayern less than 10 minutes later, a scoreline that lasted til the final whistle.

Bayern, barring catastrophe, will be in the very last round(s) of the Pokal again.  But for Nöttingen, glory.  Alas, glory lasted only 90 seconds.  But the sharp-dressed Nöttingen lads in their Nike purple kit with yellow trim, for a minute and a half, were Bayern Munich’s equals.  Where it counts, on the pitch, not in pregame pundit prognostications or online betting lines.  A club that includes a trio of players who are brothers — fitting enough for our underdog dreams. (And thanks to match commentator and friend of the Fanatic Phil Bonney for some of the above information — he really does his homework when covering a match).

Petersen En Fuego

SC Freiburg’s Nils Petersen cannot stop scoring goals.  The former 2010/2011 Bundesliga 2 scoring champion with Energie Cottbus went to Bayern, ane then Werder Bremen, and scoring some goals but was deemed less than successful by many, though to be fair it’s unfair to imagine that he was brought to FCB as nothing more than a backup striker.

Petersen went on loan to SCF in the second half of last season from Bremen, playing very well, but SCF were unable to avoid the drop to the 2nd division.  Petersen signed a permanent deal with the Black Forest club over the summer.

And now, three competitive matches into the season, Petersen has scored eight goals, four in one match, three in another, creating three victories for Christian Streich’s team.  Upon further review, four of these goals have been from the spot, and his four today came against small Hamburg-area club HSV Barmbek-Uhlenhorst.  But, still.

Good on you, Nils Petersen, bouncing back from some humbling times in Munich and Bremen and proving you can succeed.  And good for SCF, too.

This and That

Hannover got two goals today to advance to the 2nd Pokal round.  Coach Michael Frontzeck says thank you to scorers Salif Sané and Kenan Karaman.  The 96ers were blanked thrice in preseason matches at the end of training, so a pair of goals, even against a fourth-division side (KSV Hessen Kassel) is a confidence booster.  Hope exists.

For those who haven’t heard, there will be a 2nd annual Florida Cup in Orlando next January, again featuring two Bundesliga clubs, Bayer Leverkusen and FC Schalke, along with iconic Brazilian sides Corinthians and Fluminense.  The four-game tournament was founded by Brazilian Ricardo Villar, who is married to a German, played football in Germany and went to university in the U.S.  The perfect man to host such a get-together, and all went well last year on its maiden voyage.

My advice to fellow BuLi fans, especially in North and South America, is…be there if there’s any way you can.  Don’t know the exact dates, but last year’s arrival of teams to the tournament’s Saturday concluding matches was in the second week of January.  Some nice Florida weather (warm but not hot) in the dead of winter for us North Americans is a godsend, the DFL representatives (Deutsche Fussball Liga) were smart and fun to hang with, the chance to be up close to the players and coaches at open practices (I had a childlike thrill picking up an errant Torfabrik ball and tossing it back to a Köln coach), as well as club administrative people and journalists covering the teams from back home, is illuminating, and meeting fellow fans from all over the globe is just plain fun. As was watching players from each club try to make a 3-point basket at halftime of the Orlando Magic’s NBA game one evening.  Rumors of a gator scaring some mischievous Leverkusen players, too, are to be discounted.

We’ll release the clubs’ arrival dates and the match schedule (probably two doubleheaders with Brazilians facing Germans — the two nations that have won the most World Cups, btw).  With that information, one may find some real bargains on flights and accommodation packages if booked early.  So consider treating yourself, especially if the price of a visit to see a BuLi match in Germany is out of your current budget.  And, as your virtual travel agent, I’ll tell you that Orlando does have a few attractions, including one run by Disney, I do believe.  Can’t recall the name, though, uh…

Received a fine looking red adidas Bayern cap in the mail yesterday.  No, I have not sold my soul to the devil, at least yet.  My lack of athletic skill as a kid hardwired me to always root for the underdog, which Bayern isn’t.  But, I greatly, greatly admire a club that wasn’t even the top club in Munich 50 or so years ago becoming arguably the top club in the world.

It’s ok to hate Bayern, they are giants.  And some Bayern fans need to understand the hate in sports that comes along with being so often invincible.  But Bayern have done it right.  And they also have some great fans.

You can hate.  But consider respecting the work they’ve done to get where they are. Nobody gave these many many trophies to Bayern; they’ve earned it.

 

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Gerry Wittmann

Gerry is the founder of the Bundesliga Fanatic. Besides loving German football, he also enjoys the NBA, collecting jerseys and LPs, his pets and wishes he had more time for fishing, bicycling and learning the bass guitar.