The magic of the DFB Pokal will have to be in full effect on Tuesday if fourth tier 1.FC Saarbrücken are going to cause an upset against Bayer Leverkusen in their semi-final clash. Under normal circumstances it would be a big ask, but their task now seems impossible.
There has been absolutely no shortage of excitement and drama in the Cup run that has seen lowly Saarbrücken from the Regionalliga Sudwest make it all the way to the final four of Germany’s DFB Pokal.
They required late, late winners in both the first and second round matches against Jahn Regensburg and 1.FC Köln to secure 3-2 victories and then needed penalty shoot-outs to overcome both Karlsruher SC and then Fortuna Düsseldorf in the quarter final. They will however need more of that drama if they are to overcome Bayer Leverkusen in their semi-final.
By the time they run out at the Hermann-Neuberger Stadion, a full 94 days will have past since their last match. Unlike the Bundesliga, which restarted after the Corona virus lockdown on May 16th, the Regionalliga in Germany were terminated. Saarbrücken were six-points clear at the top of the Sudwest division at the time and were duly crowned champions earning them promotion to the 3. Liga.
Good news, but whereas Leverkusen have had five Bundesliga matches since the restart, Saarbrücken have remained in lockdown unable to play even friendlies against other teams and restricted to playing 11 v 11 matches amongst themselves in training to stay fit. It is impossible to talk of the minnows being ‘match fit’ when their last competitive match was way back on March 7th against Astoria Walldorf (a 1-0 loss).
The lack of match practice is not the only added disadvantage affecting the Saarland side. With the match having to be played behind closed doors, they have lost the 12th man that their home fans would have provided at their 8400-capacity stadium in Völklingen.
“We’ve lost our twelfth man” explained trainer Lukas Kwasniok this week. “We have to fix it at eleven against eleven. It is a disadvantage for us, and the conditions may be a little more unusual. Maybe one or two Leverkusen players won’t be able to reach his performance level. Not because he doesn’t want to, but because the psyche gets in the way.
“Of course, we would have loved to have our fans there, but nothing has changed the value of the game. We are the first fourth tier side in the semi-final and have written football history. Now we want to write sports history” he added.
Remarkably Kwasniok has only been in charge for five games since the club sacked his predecessor Dirk Lottner in December.
In light of the previous rounds where penalties have been required to proceed, the mayor of Saarbrücken has extended the curfew for the city of until midnight so that fans could continue to celebrate in the pubs in case of a penalty shoot-out victory over Leverkusen. Because a victory would be “similar to Germany winning the World Cup. I can imagine that this city and the whole region would be jumping for joy,” Uwe Conradt has said.
“We all feel extremely grateful to be part of the club’s history, to be here in this moment,” Canadian international midfielder Kianz Froese has told the BBC.
“We’re just focused on one game – 90 minutes. We’ve got to give our all, fight and see what happens. The odds are in their favour. We’re the underdogs. It’s nice to make history and do things which haven’t been done before. Everything is achievable and to be played for. That’s the mentality we’re going into the game with.
“This is the biggest game of everybody’s career. I think there’s a chance. There’s always a chance. Bayer Leverkusen are a very good team. We think we can win.”