After a long season, there are just two more games remaining before professional men’s football in Germany is done for the 2022/23 campaign. Namely, it’s the 3. Liga promotion playoff, deciding the final name who will be joining the 19 others already confirmed in next season’s 3. Liga.
This year the playoff is between two former Bundesliga clubs – Regionalliga Nordost champions FC Energie Cottbus and Regionalliga Bayern champions SpVgg Unterhaching.
This is the third year of the current promotion format, where the winners of the Regionalliga West and Regionalliga Südwest are guaranteed promotion every year. The other three leagues only get one automatic promotion spot, which is rotated between the three each season. This year the Regionalliga Nord has it, so the champions of the Regionalliga Nordost and Regionalliga Bayern will contest a playoff for the final promotion place.
The system has caused more controversy than usual this year, because Cottbus’s outspoken coach Claus-Dieter Wollitz has been happy to criticise the DFB and the promotion system. It’s a popular criticism – fan groups from all sorts of clubs have often made the demand, “Meister müssen aufsteigen!” Until that system is changed, though, one team has to miss out.
Even as champions, Unterhaching might not have even had the chance to play in the playoff. The Bavarians have had financial problems all season – despite receiving approximately 6 million from Salzburg after they sold former Haching player Karim Adeyemi. Wages haven’t always been paid on time, and it hasn’t always been clear if the club would be willing or able to get a license for the 3. Liga. Only last week was it finally confirmed that the club would take part in the playoff.
Regardless of the results, Unterhaching’s coach Sandro Wagner – yes, that Sandro Wagner – will be leaving at the end of the season. His contract is up after two years in charge and he made it clear some time ago that he wouldn’t continue, even if he gets the club into the 3. Liga. His replacement is already known – Marc Unterberger, the club’s current U19 coach. Wagner, who is likely to return to Bayern or take up more TV work, will be looking to go out on a high.
The confusion about Haching’s financial situation has affected Cottbus too, because the identity of their opponents hasn’t been clear. Würzburger Kickers or Bayern II, second and third in the Regionalliga Bayern, would step in if the champions couldn’t meet the requirements. That has made things a little more difficult for Energie’s preparation.
Things have gone well otherwise, with Cottbus winning the Brandenburg Pokal in their home ground at the weekend, securing a spot in next year’s DFB-Pokal. Eric Hottmann, who also scored the goal that confirmed promotion a few weeks ago, got a hat-trick in the final. Cottbus were also able to rest players in their final league game, although one of the few key players who did play, defender Dennis Slamar, will miss the first leg after being sent off in that game at Chemie Leipzig.
Unterhaching’s key man is surely top scorer Patrick Hobsch, who has 27 league goals from 35 games this season. There are also a number of veterans (Haching have the second oldest squad in their league), many of which are familiar names for fans of the second or third divisions, like David Pisot, René Vollath, Manuel Stiefler, Simon Skarlatidis and Sebastian Maier.
The first leg is at Cottbus’s Stadion der Freundschaft on Wednesday evening, at 8:30 local time, with the second leg on Sunday at 1pm. Both games can be watched live for free internationally, both on the DFB’s dfbplay.tv website and on their “German Football” Youtube channel.