It’s time for us to take a look at the DFB-Pokal! We don’t feature a lot of teams from lower divisions on this page, so now’s our chance to really help you all understand what’s at stake for all these sides. We’re starting off with the last two teams from the fourth division.
Only two Regionalliga sides remain in the competition
This is part of the magic of the Pokal. It’s when the fourth division and fifth division sides — those with nothing expected of them and nothing to lose — win their first game and then try and make a run for it. There have been some magical teams in the past decade who’ve made it to the quarterfinals — including Holstein Kiel in 2011/2012, Kickers Offenbach in 2012/2013, and Sportfreunde Lotte in 2016/2017. Of course, who could forget the amazing run 1. FC Saarbrücken had all the way to the semifinals in the 2019/2020 season — so far, the only fourth division team ever to make it that far.
Of those four teams, two of them played Bundesliga opposition in the second round. Sportfreunde Lotte was able to eliminate Bayer Leverkusen after winning 4-3 on penalties — while Saarbrücken was able to dispatch Köln 3-2 in regular time thanks to a 90’ Tobias Jänicke winner. In 2011/2012, Kiel were able to prove their worth in the Round of 16. There, they were able to pull a 2-0 shutout over a Mainz team that finished 13th in Thomas Tuchel’s third season in charge. Meanwhile, in the following season, Kickers Offenbach experienced an incredibly lucky draw that saw them playing only 2. Bundesliga opposition until they were knocked out by VfL Wolfsburg in the Quarterfinals.
The two teams left in this edition of the Pokal could only wish to be so lucky. Both have already played Bundesliga sides and are set to play them again. After dispatching of Greuther Fürth on penalties, former East German side SV Babelsberg 03 gets to play a fellow team from the east in RB Leipzig. Meanwhile, Preußen Münster were able to advance after the incompetence of now sacked Wolfsburg manager Mark van Bommel — who used six substitutes in what was a 3-1 win in extra time for the Wolves. But Wolfsburg was penalized, the result was retroactively changed to a 2-0 loss, and Münster marched on. They have a similarly tough task in Hertha Berlin.
I say similarly tough because while Leipzig and Hertha are in 6th and 10th respectively, they are only separated by two points and have not reached their fully realized potential. Hertha have gone 3 wins — 0 draws — 2 losses in their last five matches — including a 6-0 loss to Leipzig. They seem to be the perfect “pure outcome team” having had no draws at all in the Bundesliga this season. Leipzig, meanwhile, have been inconclusive in their form. They seem to be a team capable of pulling out results, but their last five games are rocky at best. They include wins over Bochum and Fürth, a draw to SC Freiburg, a loss in the Champions League and — possibly a good omen for Babelsberg — a loss to Polish side Slask Wroclaw in a club friendly.
Looking at the two underdogs, it’s hard to tell who might have an advantage in their game. Babelsberg are seven points off the lead in the Regionalliga Nordost currently sitting in 6th. They’ve played all five teams currently above them in the standings and only have a 1-2-2 record — with a win against 2nd place BFC Dynamo, draws in their last two games against 3rd place Lokomotive Leipzig and 5th VSG Altglienicke, and losses to 4th place Carl Zeiss Jena and leaders Berliner AK 07. They have a goal difference of 8, the third worst in the top half of the table. Their 17 goals conceded is tied for worst in the top half of the table. On the bright side, the Nulldrei do have the leading scorer in the Nordost in the form of 34-year old striker Daniel Frahn (11G/2a 15GP). They also have winger Tino Schmidt whose 7 assists is tied for the second most in the league. Expect both of them to have a major role in any result Babelsberg pull out.
Preußen Münster have a different story — a slightly better one from the looks of it. They’re currently 4th in the Regionalliga Oeste with the 2nd best goal difference in the league. However, they haven’t been that successful when playing up to the competition in their league — having only a 0-0 draw with 2nd place Wuppertal as a positive result, coupled with two 3-2 losses to 3rd place Fortuna Köln and leaders Rot-Weiss Essen. They have an interesting quirk in that they have the third best goals scored mark, but they don’t have a scorer in the top nine in the league. Attacking midfielder Thorben Deters leads Die Adler in the league with 5 goals in 8 games played, but is tied for 10th in the scoring table. Instead, Münster has hit the league in waves from all fronts. 12 players ranging from age 18 to 33 have scored in the league. Not to mention, they have four players who have more than five goals in all competitions — with 24-year old striker Jan Dahlke leading (9 goals/2assists/14 games played).
So, who has the best chance of pulling the upset? It’s not exactly clear — and that’s mostly on the Bundesliga sides. Münster was able to take a then-red-hot Wolfsburg team to extra time, so they could easily manage Hertha. Though, with the exception of the 6-0 loss to Leipzig, all of Hertha’s games have been one goal affairs. As for Leipzig, that friendly loss is really concerning and they haven’t pulled out a win against a team in the top 8 of the league all year. However, they do have the talent necessary to do well in this tournament and considering Babelsberg’s reliance on Frahn to score, the Leipzig backline could shut him down.
I know it’s a cop-out answer, but I could really see any of the four teams winning. It’s just that hard to predict — and that’s what makes the Pokal great in the first place.
Hopes of a Munich Derby hang in the balance today
Every year, I hope for the lottery balls to be plucked up in just the right way — to have two teams sitting right next to each other: TSV 1860 München and FC Bayern München. The Munich Derby, which should be one of the more common and celebrated fixtures in the German game has taken to becoming a folk tale. The wonders and animosities fading into existence as one team faded from its glory and the other became the most dominant club team in the country.
The Munich Derby hasn’t been played since the 2007/2008 season. It was the Pokal that brought them together. These days, it seems like only the cup will ever bring them together. The sides met in the quarterfinals of the Pokal at a time when both sides were sharing the Allianz Arena. 1860 was four seasons removed from their last appearance in the top flight, but they boasted a squad full of recognizable names. Both Sven and Lars Bender started this game for Die Löwen. After keeper Michael Hofmann went down, he was replaced by current Leipzig backup Philipp Tschauner. Julian Baumgartlinger spent the game as an unused substitute. The backline was manned by a center back pairing of St. Pauli legend Markus Thorandt and a New Jersey native by the name of Gregg Berhalter. It was a true derby match to the end — featuring seven yellow cards with three of those being enough to send people off. At the 120’ mark, a foul on Miroslav Klose just outside the edge of the box was given to Bayern as a penalty. It had to be taken twice — but eventually it was converted by a young substitute in his first season named Franck Ribery.
As one of three remaining 3. Liga teams, 1860 have a tough task before them in a game against fallen giants Schalke 04. Die Löwen needed penalties to get past SV Darmstadt in the first round, while Schalke thrashed 5th division side FC Villingen 4-1 in their match. Scoring hasn’t been a strong suit for 1860, who currently reside in 16th in the 3. Liga after an amazing campaign last year. They might only be five points off from 7th, but that gap seems a lot bigger considering they have played all but two teams in between those spots and boast a paltry 0-5-2 record. There have been 12 players who’ve scored for 1860 this season, but none of them have more than four goals. On the other hand, Schalke sit 3rd in the 2. Bundesliga thanks to a league leading 11 goals in 11 games for Simon Terrode.
It’s a fixture that hasn’t been played in 13 years. A lot needs to go right for it to get there. Can 1860 uphold their end of the bargain?
Can Holstein Kiel pull some second round magic out of their hats again?
It was a banner season last year for Holstein Kiel. The team had its best finish to a season since 1965, but suffered a similar result. In the 1964/1965 season, after winning the Regionalliga Nord (then in the second tier) Kiel came third in their qualification group — coming just two points behind promoted side Borussia Mönchengladbach. Last season, Kiel came in third just missing out on an automatic promotion spot they’d had since matchday 3. After a 1-0 home win away in the first leg, they were battered 5-1 at home at the hands of Köln.
All that disappointment was heart wrenching for a team that has never played in the top flight of German football. But, for a day, they were giant killers. Drawn against Bayern Munich, the teams went to penalties after 120’ of being tied at two goals a piece. The teams went back and forth through five rounds of penalties — neither side missing once. In the sixth round, the Bavarians sent up Marc Roca. Through the falling snow, Kiel keeper Ioannis Gelios was able to pick out the ball and make a fantastic diving save. With the game on his boots, Fin Bartles calmly sent Manuel Neuer the wrong way to send Die Störche to the Round of 16.
From there, Kiel ran with it thanks to two favorable draws. They went to penalties again against Darmstadt — this time going nine rounds before advancing 7-6 on PKs. The quarterfinal matchup against Rot-Weiss Essen finished with an easy 3-0 win for Kiel. Just like that, they became the first 2. Bundesliga team to make the DFB-Pokal semifinals since Arminia Bielefeld did it in the 2014/2015 season. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end — and what a visceral end it was. It wasn’t even the second half before eventual cup winners Borussia Dortmund hung five goals on the nets of Kiel, sending them packing back for the Baltic Sea.
That second round magic against Bayern Munich gave that Kiel team a wave of momentum that they rode in the cup all the way to the semi-finals. History has a chance to repeat itself when Kiel take on Hoffenheim.
Game of the Day: 1. FC Nürnberg v. Hamburger SV
Not for nothing, both of these teams have had great seasons in the 2. Bundesliga so far — with Nürnberg sitting 4th and Hamburg sitting 6th. They represent two of the most successful clubs — not just in this tournament, but in all of Germany.
But instead of all that, today, we travel back to the past to see why this fixture has some history to it.
Nürnberg currently operate in the shadow of their larger Bavarian brothers — but historically, they are just as much a part of the fabric of the Bundesliga. The team has won the second most German titles of any club with nine to their name — five of which came during the 1920’s. The team also sits tied with Köln for the 6th most German cups. Hamburg are just as menacing and just as storied. The team has six league titles and three German cups — good for 5th most and T-8th most respectively — to add to its impressive resume. Not only that, but they were the last founding member of the Bundesliga to be relegated from the top flight.
But I want to go back to that decade of dominance I mentioned before with Nürnberg. Whenever they were doing well, Hamburg were usually right around the corner. Back when the German championship was decided in a knockout format based on the winners of the Regionalligen, Nürnberg were able to dominate the format. They won the first championship since the end of World War I in 1920 — beating Greuther Fürth 2-0. The following season, they repeated winning 5-0 over BFC Vorwärts 90 (now Blau-Weiß 1890 Berlin).
Then came the 1922 championship — and the first national title meeting between Hamburg and Nürnberg. Ladies, gentlemen, and all other lovely people: what followed is what I’ve determined to be the wildest championship decision ever. There are three insane points to this whole debacle.
The title holders swept aside SpVgg Leipzig in the quarterfinals then held on to win 1-0 over SV Norden-Nordwest to reach the final. Hamburg reached the final for the first time in their history by thrashing Titania Stettin then Wacker München. The teams met in the final set to battle it out for glory. Hamburg struck first in the 19’, only to have Nürnberg score one minute later. A 30’ goal gave Nürnberg the lead and it seemed like they would hold on until the 86’ when Hamburg equalized. On to extra time they went. But how much extra time would they play? This is insane point #1. While Wikipedia isn’t the best source it had this note attached to this fixture:
“Match abandoned after 189 minutes due to darkness”
Let that sink in.
Yes, after playing a full 90 minutes the teams performed in what I can only assume is a “next goal wins” scenario — but after going at it for an additional 99 minutes it got too dark. So almost two months later, there was a replay. Once again, it was a draw. Once again, it went to extra time. Cue insane point #2:
“Replay abandoned due to Nürnberg having only seven players remaining”
Here’s context. Willy Böß went off the pitch with a straight red card in the 18’. Then, for what I can only assume is injury or exhaustion, Anton Kugler was substituted off in the 75’. A second red card came for Nürnberg when Heinrich Träg was sent off in the 100’. Then, again, for what I can only assume is injury or exhaustion, Luitpold Popp walked off the field in the 105’.
There are no full match accounts. There are no written explanations. We don’t even know how long the game went on after the 105’. For all we know, that game could have gone on another 40 minutes before calling it quits. We don’t know this because there’s no written account of when the second leg stopped. All we know is that the team fielded 11 players and then did not bring any substitutes. Therefore, after tiring themselves out, four players were off the field and it was 11 v. 7 in favor of Hamburg.
In terms of who got the title, well, that would be insane point #3. Here’s the account from Wikipedia:
Hamburg was awarded the title but Nuremberg successfully protested. Hamburg launched a counter-protest and was eventually awarded the title but then declined the championship, leaving the 1921–22 season without an official champions [sic].
So, to sum it all up:
- The teams played a full 90 minutes then another 99 minutes of extra time in the first leg with no winner
- They played a second leg that got abandoned in extra time because Nürnberg didn’t have enough players to finish
- Hamburg is awarded the title
- Nürnberg protests the decision, and wins
- Hamburg counter protests, and wins again, fully giving them the title
- After thinking about it, Hamburg decides that they don’t really think they should have the title
- The 1921/22 season has no champion
So while the game today might not have nearly as much at stake, just know that those ghosts still haunt the fields. And who knows? If it weren’t for that 1922 championship, maybe tie games would still be decided by playing until you dropped.
Who’s complaining about away goals now?
Now here come a whole bunch of stadia we don’t get to see very often. Here are the match times for the Second Round, day 1 (all times Eastern US):
Tuesday, October 26th
- SV Babelsberg 03 v. RB Leipzig (Karl-Liebknecht-Stadion — Potsdam-Babelsberg, Brandenburg)
- TSV 1860 München v. Schalke 04 (Städtisches Stadion an der Grünwalder Straße — München, Bavaria)
- SC Preußen Münster v. Hertha BSC (Preußenstadion — Münster, North Rhine-Westphalia)
- TSG Hoffenheim v. Holstein Kiel (PreZero Arena — Sinsheim, Baden-Württemberg)
- Borussia Dortmund v. FC Ingolstadt 04 (Signal Iduna Park — Dortmund, North Rhine-Westphalia)
- 1. FSV Mainz 05 v. Arminia Bielefeld (Mewa Arena — Mainz, Rhineland-Palatinate)
- 1. FC Nürnberg v. Hamburger SV (Max-Morlock-Stadion — Nürnberg, Bavaria)
- VfL Osnabrück v. SC Freiburg (Stadion an der Bremer Brücke — Osnabrück, Lower Saxony)