Nothing is certain in life apart from death, taxes and cup upsets. On an exciting spring evening at the Schüco-Arena in Bielefeld on Wednesday, fans of German football got their latest fix of the latter as visiting side Borussia Mönchengladbach, flying high in third place in the Bundesliga, crashed out to their third tier hosts Arminia Bielefeld on penalties.
That’s not the whole story, however. Borussia weren’t even that bad – instead, coming up against a potent and capable Arminia Bielefeld side who had already dismissed Bundesliga opposition in Hertha BSC and a then in-form Werder Bremen in the previous rounds, who are currently making tidy progress to promotion back to the 2. Bundesliga at the first time of asking, who proved savvy enough to give high-class opposition a great contest for over two hours of football.
While the result is certainly an upset, it perhaps isn’t one in the traditional sense. It was always clear that Bielefeld were to prove a tough contest for Borussia, who’d dismissed lower league opposition – albeit significantly lower in quality than a relatively recent Bundesliga club – in the form of Homburg and Offenbach on their way to the DFB-Pokal quarter-final. Die Fohlen have been susceptible on the road at points over the past few years, and still had panicky moments against the likes of Homburg and Offenbach earlier in the season; perhaps a hangover from the agony of last year’s first round exit to Darmstadt.
However, where the disappointment in Darmstadt stung sharply, the pain of this exit may prove more to rankle. While to viewers of the game it was quite clear that Bielefeld probably deserved their semi-final berth, it is perhaps upsetting that a Borussia side with very clear talent and the know-how to beat the top sides – which, considering the other three sides in the final four are Wolfsburg, Bayern and Dortmund, would have been essentially – have left themselves bereft of a chance to make the final in Berlin next month.
That is, however, part and parcel of cup football; if you’re not on your game on the night, you’re not going to progress. Borussia didn’t by any means play poorly, dominating the play in a sterile sense – keeping the ball excellently – but failed to outweigh their hosts in terms of chances created, with the wing duo of Hahn and Herrmann cancelled out excellently by their opposite numbers, Dick and Schuppan, while many of the problems of the early Rückrunde, of breaking down deep-lying, counter-attacking sides, reared their head again, as Borussia struggled to break down a highly organised and personnel-heavy defence. Tactically, it was an excellent strategy by Bielefeld’s manager Norbert Meier, and perhaps a sign to Lucien Favre that there are still areas on which his team can improve during the run-in.
On the other hand, though, Borussia should (and will) hesitate to make too many changes as a result of this game. Everything has gone swimmingly in the Bundesliga since the turn of the year, and the team showed excellent resolve in keeping their strong run of form going after the disappointment of their European exit to Sevilla back at the end of February; with such a tight and exciting race for third between Borussia and Leverkusen (who also exited the Pokal on penalties on Wednesday) already appearing at this stage in the season – it almost seems perverse to consider Schalke overhauling one of the aforementioned duo – it’s clear that quite a lot is going right. Wednesday night didn’t, but there’s always next year.
As for Bielefeld, the future looks bright. It would be very surprising if Arminia didn’t reach the 2. Bundesliga again, with a lot of exciting things happening in Ostwestfalen under Meier. Having drawn Wolfsburg, a place in the final in Berlin will be difficult for Bielefeld to achieve, but is now no more difficult a task than beating Borussia Mönchengladbach in the quarter-final. Arminia will certainly have the neutrals on their side – hopefully their cup run can continue. Otherwise, where are the narratives for this column to draw upon?
Arminia Bielefeld 1:1 (1:1) Borussia Mönchengladbach (5:4 to Bielefeld after penalties)
Junglas 26. – Kruse (pen) 32.
Bielefeld: Schwolow; Dick, Burmeister, Salger, Schuppan; Junglas (Brinkmann, 46.), Schütz; Hemlein, Müller (Ulm, 99.), Mast (Lorenz, 76.); Klos. (4-2-3-1)
Mönchengladbach: Sommer; Jantschke, Brouwers, Dominguez, Wendt; Herrmann (Traore, 69.), Kramer, Xhaka, Hazard (Johnson, 99.); Hahn (Raffael, 80.), Kruse. (4-4-2)
Klos 12., Junglas 24., Burmeister 104., Ulm 110. – Hahn 45., Hazard 65., Brouwers 90., Xhaka 104., Jantschke 111.