Author Archives: Kyle

1954: It could have been so very different……..

On the 4th of July, 1954, the so-called ‘miracle of Bern’ took place, as a largely unheralded West German side – dominated and captained by the indomitable Fritz Walter – overcame Ferenc Puskás and Hungary to lift the Jules Rimet trophy for the first time. The 3-2 victory has subsequently been well-chronologed; to the extent of being the subject of a full-length feature film of the same title (‘Das Wunder von Bern’), ensuring the football annuls are replete with the legend of West Germany’s first post-war outings.

However, behind that storied, heady summer lies another far less well-known tale. One that could have changed the course of history…

Everybody is well aware of how the end of the Second World War divided the German state, East-to-West. However, always a far-less reported part was the disputed area of the Saar. Prior to the period immediately after World War Two, the Saarland territory was hotly disputed. Yielding significant areas of coal, and a productive, fertile farming region courtesy of the route of the River Saar, its potential for exploitation appealed greatly to both France and the Prussian (and then German) Empire. At the end of the First World War, the region gained an air of autonomy, but was occupied by the Allied Nations. It was reabsorbed into Germany under the Nazis in 1935, before being handed to the French as a protectorate in the aftermath of the Second World War.

Ahead of the 1949-50 season, 1.FC Saarbrücken were strongly encouraged to apply to join the domestic French league, having competed for the previous campaign on an invitational basis. This encouragement came with strong backing from Jules Rimet himself (then head of FIFA the FFF), but was rejected by both the Saarländischer Fuβballbund and the other French clubs. Two years later, after a plethora of friendlies and one-off tournaments, 1.FC were permitted to enter the West German league system.

However interesting-a-tale this undoubtedly is, perhaps more of a story is that of the international equivalent. On a similar footing to the travails of 1.FC, it was felt that sport in general could play a significant role in the assertion of the true independence of the Saar area. Those efforts led to the creation of the Nationales Olympishces Komitee des Saarlandes (Saar National Olympic Committee), which gave formal, IOC recognition to the State’s self-governance, and culminated in participation at the 1952 Olympic Games. Alongside that, and as a result of rejecting the prospect of joining the French system, came a successful application for recognition from FIFA, and the formation of an international team.

On the 22nd of November, 1950, Saarland played their first ever international; contesting a 5-3 victory at home to a Swiss National ‘B’ Team, in front of a crowd of around 20,000 fans in Saarbrücken’s Ludwigparkstadion. Two goals a-piece from Borussia Neunkirchen’s Erich Leibenguth and FC 1912 Ernsdorf’s Herbert Martin – with a fifth from the boot of the host city’s Karl Berg – settled things. A little over six months later, and another win was secured – this time a 3-2 at home to Austria ‘B’ – before The Saar travelled abroad for the very first time, in a return encounter with Switzerland. Another triumph duly ensued (5-2), and emboldened the SFB sufficiently to submit an application to FIFA to enter qualification for the forthcoming World Cup, which was to also be held in Switzerland.

Packed to the rafters: The Ludwigsparkstadion, 22 November, 1950

At that time, FIFA employed a regionalised basis to their qualification set-up. So, and in the almost script-written inevitability that only sport seems able to induce, Saarland found themselves pitched into Group 1, alongside Norway and, yes, West Germany. And so, on the 24th of June, 1953, Saarland kicked-off what would prove to be their only run of competitive international fixtures; to the relatively imposing backdrop of the Ulevall Stadium in Oslo. Going two-down inside the opening 15 minutes, the minnows then rallied – inspired by defender Theo Puff, who played on to the 40th minute, despite suffering a broken fibula just moments into the game – to level the tie inside half an hour. Then, just seven minutes after the break, the 2-3-5 formation yielded a third for the away side, through Neunkirchen’s Gerhard Siedl (who would later go on to play for Bayern Munich and West Germany)! Somehow, the visitors subsequently managed to weather the ensuing pounding from their hosts, and when the Dutch referee blew for full-time, it was greeted with a mixture of surprise and incredulity from everyone. After Norway then held West Germany to a 1-all draw in the next game, Saarland found themselves top of the Group.

Then came a game that threatened to destabalise the political balance, as they journeyed the short trip to Stuttgart, to take on their former overlords. In a step taken to mitigate against any potential governmental ramifications, the Germans refused to fly the Saarland flag, and then went on to inflict a 3-0 defeat that history reflects as somewhat harsh on their visitors.

However, despite the loss, Saarland still went into the return fixture with the West Germans with a chance of making it to Switzerland, following a 0-0 against Norway (held in front of over 40,000 spectators, incidentally). In their tenth match, the hosts were buoyed by ten 1.FC Saarbrücken players, and the biggest crowd ever seen in the state, with upwards of 53,000 packed into the Ludwigsparkstadion to witness their heroes (a figure that was more than 1/20th of the entire population). Dominating the first quarter, Martin had a highly-debateable offside decision ruled against him to chalk off a goal, before a West German handball passed by without accord to further frustrations. Max Morlock (who would score the first for the Germans in the following year’s World Cup Final) then compounded matters by opening the scoring just before half-time. Six minutes after the break, that advantage was doubled, before a penalty from Martin restored an element of hope. Seven minutes from time, though, that final flicker was extinguished, as Hans Schäfer added a third.

The obvious disappointment notwithstanding, independence had failed to distil a certain sense of National pride in the majority of the squad, who still saw themselves as inherently German. Indeed, wing-half Kurt Clemens would later be quoted as saying: “I still remember today that I wasn’t really unhappy after both defeats [to West Germany]. I felt that I was ­German and didn’t want to prevent the team that I’d always wanted to play for as a boy from getting to Switzerland. We wouldn’t have had a chance at the World Cup anyway”. Indeed, the squad would later celebrate alongside their former compatriots, in their hotel in Bern (information courtesy of http://www.wsc.co.uk/the-archive/923-Europe/4367-saarland-1950-1955).

In total, across a meagre six years of existence, Saarland contested 19 matches; winning six, with three draws and ten defeats. Three players would earn 19 caps for West Germany over the next five years (Heinz Vollmar – 12 caps, 3 goals; Gerhard Siegl – 6, 3; and Karl Ringel – 1, 0). The coach of the side during their qualification campaign – Helmut Schön – would go on to join the West German National set-up as Assistant Coach, before then taking over the reins and leading them to victory in both the 1972 European Championships and the following World Cup in 1974.

 

The team that once was: The Saarland National Side before their 1953 encounter with West Germany

Matchday reports and appearance/ goal statistics courtesy of http://www.saar-nostalgie.de/Nationalmannschaft1.htm and http://www.rsssf.com/miscellaneous/saar-recintlp.html

Time for Salad? Die Meisterschale

Object of Desire - Die Meisterschale

Weighing in at 11kg (the same as the Mask of Tutankhamen), with a diameter of 59cm (about the width of your average fridge door) and a value of some €25,000, the Bundesliga Shield casts an impressive shadow. And the race is most assuredly on for the honour of hoisting it aloft for the fiftieth time in Bundesliga history.

The Original 'Viktoria', and Her Replacement

Yet the history of Die Miesterschale actually dates back way beyond the inaugural 1963 season, recording every German top-flight winning team since the foundation of the National league format in 1903; starting with VfB Leipzig.

Cast from over 5kg of Sterling silver, and emblazoned with five large tourmaline diamonds (along with eleven smaller ones, and five tourmaline-cabochons), it was originally designed and fabricated by a pioneering artist from Cologne as a replacement for the Viktoria, which was lost during the Second World War.

Elisabeth Treskow

A Lesser-known Light: Elisabeth Treskow

Born five years before the National football league – in August, 1898 – Elisabeth Treskow was the only child of Max and Hedwig. By the age of 20, she had attained teaching-grade qualifications in gold-and silver-smiths. After two decades in which she opened her own studio and workshop (in Essen, in 1923), studied in Paris (1927), begun work into redefining granulation techniques that would shape her art for the Twentieth Century, been awarded the Ring of Honour (1933), Jewellery Cross (1935), Love Ring (1936), Paris Worlds’ Fair Gold Medal (1938), and moved to Detmold to open a larger workshop, she crossed paths with the sphere of football.

The 1947-48 season marked the rejoining of competition following World War Two, and saw 1.FC Nuremberg crowned Champions once again. Ironically enough, however, Der Club never received their trophy, which was lost – and never recovered – during the War. Thus, a new trophy was commissioned. By this time, Treskow had been appointed Head of the Cologne School of Artists, and was seen as the foremost artiste in the Country (a remarkable feat for a woman, particularly in the immediacy of the post-War era). She was hand-picked to carry out the commission and, around six months later, presented designs for today’s Meisterschale to the Association. Immediately acclaimed as a reward truly befitting Champions, the trophy also quickly assumed the nickname of ‘The Salad Dish’, due to its shape and structure.

1981 – A Miscalculation

The stereotypical impression of Germany holds for an always-attentive, efficient nation. However, in 1981 – just 31 years into its presentation – space on the plate ran out for carving the names of Winners! Due to the admiration for the shield, and the history attached to it, rather than resort to seeking a replacement, the DFB had an additional ring added – with silver bolts, and inkeeping with the design  – to the original; allowing space for another 60 years of Champions.

Etched into the metal surrounds are the names of a relatively elite – if varied (by today’s standings) – band of Clubs. Just 29 sides have taken the title of being Germany’s best; ranging from the likes of Holstein Kiel (in 1907), Viktoria Berlin (1912) and Eintracht Braunschweig (1936), through to the heavy-hitters of the modern era. In the past 50 years, however, that number count is just 12 strong. Bayern head that list (with a mammoth 21 titles to their name), followed by current holders – Dortmund – and ‘Gladbach on five each.

One thing is for sure, each and every Club honouring the top-flight during this historic campaign will take especial note of the opportunity to write their name in the Bundesliga annuls. And the big two have been quick to attempt to subvert the media glare, with Jürgen Klopp following the general consensus by expressing how “Who’ll finish on top? I don’t know. I don’t think anyone knows. There’s one team for whom success is the only option, and that’s FC Bayern Munich. I’m just pleased we’re up there”; and his counterpart in Münich – Jupp Heynckes – responding equivocally “If a team wins back-to-back titles, you can’t deny them their favourites’ tag. But of course we want to get at Borussia Dortmund, and we will risk everything to bring the title back to Munich”.

Keep Your Mits Off!

Either way – and it’s hard to look outside of those two this year – there’s an added element of desperation to be chomping on salad come the 18th of May next year. Guten Appétit!

 

 

United: Euro 1996

Football Coming Home?

Ahead of their impending battle with Italy, and in the final instalment of his three-part series,  Kyle Barber turns attention towards Euro 1996, and yet more firsts for a now unified German side that had waited 16 years to once again be considered the best in Europe………..

Throughout the annuls of the European Championships, victories for German nations have been intertwined with ‘firsts’; both for the country, and the tournament itself (both negative and positive). 1996 was to prove no different.

Four years earlier, the 1992 edition of the Championships witnessed Germany competing as a unified nation for the first time in a major tournament, and doing so as one of just eight teams. This time around, that number was doubled, with teams split across four groups. Seeded for the draw as a result of their historic success and global ranking, the Germans had also topped their qualification group, and thus saw themselves paired with the Czech Republic, Italy, and Russia in Group C.

The squad as a whole adhered more to the perceived quintessential German stereotype of efficiency and pragmatism than their predecessors merited, with the flair and creativity of wingers Thomas Häβler and Mehmet Scholl being overshadowed by the dogmatic displays of Steffen Freund and Andreas Möller. Yet Coach, Berti Vogts, engineered a blend of both the prosaic and more exuberant to good effect. With five goals scored, and none conceded during the Group phase (courtesy of an ill-tempered 2-0 win over the Czechs – Christian Ziege, 26’ and Möller, 32’; a 3-0 defeat of the Russians – Matthias Sammer, 56’, and Jürgen Klinsmann, 77’, 90’; and a dour 0-0 encounter with the Italians), there was certainly a somewhat miserly air to the side led by the indefatigable Klinsmann. And while the on-field action of the second game had Germany again going about their business in a methodical, calm manner it was off the field that global attention was unfortunately focused; as an IRA bomb rocked the centre of Manchester less than 24 hours before the match between Russia and Germany – causing some £700m worth of damage, and injuring over 200 people. It is, to date, the only terrorist incident at a European Championships.

Group C

Team

P

W

D

L

GF GA Pts
Germany

3

2

1

0

5

0

7

Czech Republic

3

1

1

1

5

6

4

Italy

3

1

1

1

3

3

4

Russia

3

0

1

2

4

8

1

With passage to the knockout phase secured, Germany were next to face the surprise package of the tournament, in Croatia. Having brought the early stages to life with their effusive, fast-paced defeat of defending Champions Denmark – recall that goal by Davor Suker that helped send the Danes home – it would prove a stern trial for the Nationalmannschäft.

Playing for the fourth consecutive time in front of a capacity Old Trafford crowd, it would be the Quarter-Final stage that a new German hero would take his strides towards securing his place in the DFB record books. Any player asked to fill the position of Centre-Back-cum-Defensive Midfielder ‘libero’ within the German eleven has the unenviable comparison with the legendary Franz Beckenbauer invariably thrust upon them. Such a daunting moniker was thus bestowed on the square shoulders of Matthias Sammer when he was asked to do just that.

Having seen their early advantage (a 20’ penalty, converted by Klinsmann) levelled out by the imposing Suker a matter of minutes after the break. Ultimately, the difference would prove to be evoked by two incidents, separated by a few seconds. In the 54’ minute, Igor Stimac saw red – figuratively and literally – and just five minutes later a cool, placed finish from Sammer turned their numerical advantage into one reflected on the scoresheet. Sammer himself echoed the collected, matter-of-fact nature embodied by the German machine: “there was a pass from [Markus] Babbel, then a header, and I just put it inside the far post. Overall we had calmness [and] knew we were physically strong”. Having previously made 23 appearances for East Germany, Sammer became the first real integration from the East into the unified team. Robbed of greater participation four years earlier by a plethora of injuries, his was certainly a testing road to travel. Yet, four years later he would be the veritable linchpin for both club and country – coming off the bench to save an injury-ravaged team, with his coronation being cemented when he was awarded the Ballon d’Or.

With the likes of Sammer, Klinsmann and Andreas Köpke leading on the pitch, and Berti Vogts at the helm off it, the side found themselves orchestrated by a quartet who had recent experience of pulling on the national shirt, and who understood what unification meant for the country – echoed through the eleven who now did the same – Vogts himself enthused: “we can dominate World football [with unity, and] owe it to our children to do all we can to reach that aim”.

And so to the infamous semi-final match-up with England. So much has been written and spoken about the game, and to reprise too much would seem trivial. An Alan Shearer header with barely 3’ on the watch sent the vast majority of the 76,000-strong Wembley crowd into raptures, but Stefan Kuntz equalised 15’ later with a well-taken effort. Chances came and went – with Darren Anderton hitting the woodwork, and Kuntz having a second chalked off as a result of a push. Penalties loomed.

Ten players successfully converted before Gareth Southgate would ensure a lucrative contract with Pizza Hut, leaving (as is often forgotten) Möller with the chance to convert the winning spotkick; a task to which he duly obliged.

Moller, suspended for the Final, drags his team through

Final

And on to the climax where, once again, the Germans would reprise their opening encounter and, once again, it would be the Czechs standing between them and history.

73,611 supporters packed Wembley’s hallowed stands, as Vogts opted to make four changes to the starting eleven that had begun the tournament; in came Babbel, Thomas Strunz, Scholl and Klinsmann, for Stefan Reuter, Jürgen Kohler, Möller and Fredi Bobic. For the Czechs, coach Dusan Uhrin made just two alterations from that first match. Sadly, the final failed to really capture the imagination, as a largely attritional attitude overtook both sides. Patrik Berger finally opened the scoring after 59’ from a penalty conceded by Sammer (“I never touched him!” Sammer maintains to this day), before Oliver Bierhoff – replacing Scholl on 69’ – scored to level.

It came as no surprise to anyone watching that the match progressed to extra-time. Yet that very turn of events would yield presence to a history itself. With just five minutes of the first period gone, Oliver Bierhoff’s tame effort somehow found its way through the grasp of Petr Kouba in the Czech goal, and the only ‘golden goal’ in tournament history was secure the trophy for the Germans.

Sammer once more remained the very definition of calm, both at the time, and on reflection: “it was great for Oliver…he was a typical [English] centre-forward: not the best technically…but he deserved it so much. We all gained from it, but he deserved it”.

As Jürgen Klinsmann drew his side up the famed steps, prising the Henri Delaunay trophy from the Queen, before holding it towards the heavens, it seemed to most that Vogts’ wish would be fulfilled, and another period of dominance loomed large. Few, at that time, would have believed that (at least) 16 years would go by without ‘Deutschland’ being once more etched onto continental silverware. But in an age where the national side now boasts players born since unification, the prescience and homage to that mantra could, finally, be served.

The Last German Hands to Lift National Silverware

Revenge: Euro 1980

Euro 1980

In the second of his three-part series,  Kyle Barber moves on to 1980, and retribution for a German side dethroned four years earlier………..

In 1976, reigning World and European Champions West Germany suffered a shock defeat in the final of Euro 1976; losing out 5-3 on penalties to a committed Czechoslovakia side, in a match famed for the audacious way in which Antonin Panenka chose to chip the winning penalty straight down the centre of Sepp Maier’s goal. Cast forward four years, and an enlarged eight-team tournament witnessed a definitive return to prominence for a National team that would go on to dominate the next decade of World football.

Scarcely recognisable from the side that sought to defend their 1972 crown (with just Captain Bernard Dietz and Rainer Bonhof keeping their places from the 1976 group), the 1980 West German squad was shorn of the likes of Beckenbauer – then plying his trade with the New York Cosmos – and Uli Hoeneβ – forced into retirement aged just 27 due to a knee injury sustained two years previous. In their stead stepped future stars such as Lothar Matthäus and Eike Immel. Yet this would prove to be a tournament belonging to two other lights: Karl-Heinze Rummenigge and Horst Hrubesch.

As briefly touched-upon, the Italy-based extravaganza became the first to accommodate more than just four teams, and the first to exhibit a structure more reminiscent of that of the modern era; with two groups of four. The Germans found themselves thrust against the aging (but still competent) Dutch, Greece, and their conquerors from four years hence, the Czechs. Indeed, while the format may have changed, the competition opened with a marked air of familiarity, as the DFB-Elf had the opportunity for revenge, taking on Czechoslovakia.

Perhaps with the weight of expectation exerting too much on them, the pre-tournament favourites struggled to press their superiority into effect amid the imposing arena of the Stadio Olimpico. However, Rummenigge’s far-post headed effort on 57’ finally broke the deadlock, the Czechs managed only one real counter attempt – Zdenek Nehoda wasting a good chance from the edge of the 18-yard box – and Germany were off and running. After that match, Rummenigge was quick to try and alleviate any further pressure from the collective youthful shoulders of his teammates, noting “it was an important match and a very good start to the tournament for us. We had a new, young team [who] weren’t favourites to win at all”.

It would take just a further 65 minutes for the Germans to truly mark their arrival at the tournament; with a whirlwind first half display that would leave not even Rummenigge able to argue to the contrary. Noting the laborious manner of the opening game, Coach Jupp Derwall opted to remove Bernd Förster, replacing him with 20-year-old Bernd Schuster. Schuster would go on to garner a place in the team of the tournament. But for this encounter, he was tormenter-in-chief, with a hand in each of his side’s three goals as the Dutch were swept aside. With a breath-taking level of exuberance, Schuster dominated the midfield, and it was his 20’ effort that cannoned off the from fully 25 yards, straight to Klaus Allofss to tuck in the rebound. While Germany somehow failed to extend their lead before the break, it took them just 15 minutes after it to double the advantage – Schuster playing Hansi Müller in along the right hand flank to tee-up Allofs for his second. Five minutes later, the hat-trick was complete; as a weaving run from Schuster bewitched the Oranje rearguard, allowing him time to pull the ball back to Allofs to net from all of five yards out.

Berndt Schuster:a revelation at the tournament

Berndt Schuster:a revelation at the tournament

That game – against one of the DFB’s most fearsome rivals – was also notable for affording Lothar Matthäus the first of his 150 international caps. But it was a debut to forget for the then-19-year-old, who tripped Wijnstekers in the 79’, to give the Netherlands a lifeline duly converted by Johnny Rep. The final scoreline became even tighter with five minutes remaining – a 30-yard screamer from van der Kerkhof making the last few moments uncomfortable for Derwall’s men – but Germany held on. After the game, Schuster was thrust further into the limelight, as he was designed to attend the post-match press conference. Showing a maturity that matched his on-field play yet belied his youth, Schuster was quick to spread the praise that came his way:

“we had a good mix of experience and youth [in the team today]. We had an excellent nucleus to the [side] and played really well together”.

Group game number three offered a small reality-check for the Germans, as a stuttering display that yielded a scoreless draw with Greece was heralded as the direct result of playing without Schuster. That such a young man should already be carrying such a weight of expectation and mantle in his homeland was of concern to Derwall as he prepared for the final.

Group A – Final Standings

Team

P

W

D

L

GF GA Pts
West Germany

3

2

1

0

4

2

5

Czechoslovakia

3

1

1

1

4

3

3

Netherlands

3

1

1

1

4

4

3

Greece

3

0

1

2

1

4

1

Final

In a move that surprised literally nobody, Schuster was restored to Derwall’s starting eleven. In one that did surprise a few, Horst Hrubesch retained his starting berth, despite not scoring thus far in the competition. Confidence back home was high, as the West German press began printing mock-up pictures of the team hoisting the trophy aloft even before the game had started, such was the restored level of belief held in the side to elevate themselves to the top of the European stage once more.

Yet no team had won the Henri Delaunay trophy on more than one occasion and – as with the opening game – the apparent inevitability of the German ascension an attack on the edge of his own area, before racing through seemed to be bearing down, as international commentators were quick to note an apparent nervousness amongst the players as they lined up for the pre-match ceremonials.

Cue Herr Schuster once more.

Just ten minutes of the game had passed, when the so-monikered ‘firebrand’ broke up a Belgian attack on the edge of his own area, before playing a quick one-two with Rummenigge, then arcing a wonderful chipped through-ball to Hrubesch. Known as the ‘heading monster’ (or, Kopfball-Ungeheuer) courtesy of a coach at Rot-Weiss Essen for his dominance in the air (with 81 of his 136 Bundesliga goals coming with his head), Hrubesch evoked the adage of “good feet for a big man” as he took the pass on, and comfortably opened the scoring.

Finding the Strength - Hrubesch Points the Way

Finding the Strength - Hrubesch Points the Way

Hrubesch himself had only found himself in the squad a matter of days before the start of the tournament and, at the age of 29, it seemed as though the opportunity of adding to his handful of international caps had passed him by. But, with the final preparations well-advanced, an untimely broken leg for Klaus Fischer saw Derwall turn to the 6’2” centre forward Hrubesch has since been more than willing to note the limits of his abilities, attributing his call-up to “the system at the time – it was a strong team…and we played some beautiful football. It was quite simple for me [to fit into the play]”.

As if to underline Hrubesch’s point, the Germans then created – and spurned – a number of other good first-half chances; Müller blazing over from inside the 18-yard box, and Jean-Marie Pfaff doing well to keep out efforts from Allofs and Schuster. But as the whistle went for half-time, they looked to be in complete control. Hrubesch picks up the tale: in the second half we saw Belgium’s class, and they deserved to equalise [through Vandereycken’s 75’ spot-kick, after Uli Stielike had felled Van der Elst]. Extra time would’ve been too much [for us]. So when we got a corner on the left, we were prepared. Rummenigge signalled…Pfaff stayed on his line…[and] I was able to [muster enough energy] to jump high…”

Hrubesch’s 88’ header sparked wild celebrations in the crowd, yet there was little evidence of the pre-tournament hooliganism that was so greatly feared, and Germany held on, the unlikely hero going on to admit that he “found it hard to lift the trophy – I was so tired after the game!”

22/06/1980, Stadio Olimpico, Att: 47,864

West Germany          2-1          Belgium

Hrubesch 10′, 88′      (1-0)         Vandereycken 75′(p)

Once again, West Germany took six places in the overall Team of the Tournament, with Karlheinze Förster, Hans-Peter Briegel, the irrepressible Schsuter, Müller, Rummenigge and Hrubesch being elected alongside four Italians (Zoff, Gentile, Scirea and Tardelli), and one Belgian (Ceulemans). Allof’s hat-trick against the Dutch saw him take the Golden Boot, while Rummenigge found himself crowned with the Ballon d’Or(with Schuster as runner-up).

And so, in a year that saw the Eurovision Song Contest won by Irishman Johnny Logan with ‘What’s Another Year?’, European football witnessed another European revision of sorts, as West Germany took to the helm. And, just as with eight years previous, this side would usher in a decade of dominance. Yet it would be another 16 years before they would get their hands on the European title again.

The Victorious Team

The Victorious Team

 

 

The Greatest? Euro 1972

In the first of a three-part series looking at German triumphs in the European Championships ahead of this summer’s tournament, Kyle Barber harks back to one of the most impressive national line-ups in history.

Maier, Breitner, Beckenbauer, Netzer and the eponymous Gerd Müller: some of the most lauded and recognisable names of German footballing history, and all synonymous with success. Having forged such reputations over the five or so years which preceded the 1972 European Championships, returning from Belgium with the trophy aloft both cemented their collective place in the annuls, and paved the way for the future.

 

Played out over an 18-month group league phase, followed by two-legged quarter finals and then the semi-finals and final, the format of Euro ’72 was somewhat different to the two-week setup of this year’s extrav. Of course at that time,Germany was still very much a divided nation. And while West Germany enjoyed a fairly routine passage through the league stage – topping their group with an unbeaten record (four wins and two draws, from games with Poland,Turkey and Albania) – their neighbours fared less well. Drawn with the imposing Yugoslavs and free-scoring Dutch (and whipping-boys,Luxembourg),East Germany were always likely to face a tough task to secure qualification (with only one team from each group progressing to the last eight). Thus it proved, as an opening run of three wins was overshadowed by two losses and a draw, leaving the side in third spot, two points behind group winners Yugoslavia.

Group 8

Team

P

W

D

L

GF GA Pts
West Germany

6

4

2

0

10   2 10
Poland

6

2

2

2

10   6   6
Turkey

6

2

1

3

  5 13   5
Albania

6

1

1

4

  5   9   3

 

Group 7

Team

P

W

D

L

GF GA Pts
Yugoslavia

6

3

3

0

  7   2   9
Netherlands

6

3

1

2

18   6   7
East Germany

6

3

1

2

11   6   7
Luxembourg

6

0

1

5

  1 23   1

 

The quarter-final line-up shaped up with Italy playing off with Belgium, Hungary taking on Romania, Yugoslavia facing the USSR, and West Germany drawn against England. It is generally regarded that a good deal of the self-belief engendered in the West German side of the 1970s had been generated a little over four years before the 1972 Final; through a 1-0 friendly win over World Champions England in Hanover. Harking back to his solitary strike that decided the game, Franz Beckenbauer would later proclaim: “It was the first time in history we had beaten the English. That was when we realised we could, and [we] lost some of the respect we had [for them]”.   Cast forward to 1970, and that confidence was reinforced as the two squared off in the World Cup quarter-final; this time with the Germans coming from two goals to take the victory 3-2. Now they would do battle once more, this time over the course of two legs.

 

The first leg saw the two teams returning to the hallowed Wembley turf. On a floodlit, damp late-April evening, the away side confirmed that the tide had fundamentally turned in their favour, producing a stirring, fluid display to comprehensively wash their hosts aside. In front of a crowd of 96,800, the West Germans took the lead through Uli Hoeneβ after 26 minutes, yet failed to reinforce their dominance, and England’s equaliser came courtesy of Franny Lee’s 77th minute tap-in. Eight minutes later, Bobby Moore mistimed a challenge on Siegfried Held, bringing the wideman crashing to the floor. Up stepped Günter Netze to drive the resulting penalty just beyond Gordan Banks, before ‘Der Bomber’ all but finished the tie three minutes later, beating six England defenders in the process. The post-match clamour that followed the away side’s performance was typified by L’Equipe’s proclamation of “football from the year 2000”, lending it an extra, ethereal quality. The second leg was something of a non-entity in all honesty, as the two teams played out a lacklustre goalless draw in Berlin’s Olympiastadion. Nonetheless,West Germany’s stock was rising, and their status on the global stage had been noted.

 

Quarter-Final, First Leg

29/04/1972

Wembley

96,800

England

Lee 77’

1-3

(0-1)

West Germany

Hoeneβ 26’

Netzer 85’(p)

Müller 88’

 

 

Quarter-Final, Second Leg

13/05/1972

Olympiastadion

76,122

West Germany

0-0

(0-0)

England

 

 

But it could just as easily never have come to pass. In Tor’, Uli Hesse notes how team coach, Helmut Schön, felt he was looking at “a dressing room of doubting men” before the double-header with the 1966 World Champions, recalling how injuries to the likes of Weber, Vogts and Overath left a depleted squad, adding to the malaise felt by the Bayern Munich contingent; who had suffered debilitating defeats to Rangers (in the Cup Winners Cup) and Duisburg (in the Bundesliga). With the 20-20 vision of history, that all merely serves to enhance the legend subsequently enjoyed by the early-1970s side.

 

And so to the ‘final’ tournament, and the semi-final match against the hosts Belgium(with the winners to meet either Hungaryor the USSR). Despite making notably heavy work of the home side, the dominance of the West Germans has since been acknowledged and well-credited by both sides. With Beckenbauer employed in his newly-ported deep-lying midfield playmaker role, the Belgians struggled to adapt their 4-4-2 sufficiently to shut down the space afforded to Der Kaiser, who was thus left to dictate the pace of the game. As a result, they frequently found themselves pulled out of position, allowing Jupp Heynckes and Erwin Kremer significant freedom on the flanks, and Netzer likewise in support of Müller. It was this pairing that would combine for the opening strike of the game, the latter heading home an inventive lob from the former with 24 minutes on the clock. It was at nigh-on the same juncture in the second half that the lead was doubled; the same duo coming together for Müller to steer home from close range on 71 minutes. And although Belgium had their chances – eventually pulling one back through an 83rd minute strike from Odilion Polleunis – the visitors’ ascendency was never really challenged.

 

Semi-Final

14/06/1972Antwerp55,669 Belgium

Polleunis 83’

1-2

(0-1)

West GermanyMüller 24’, 71’

 

Just four days later, and the apparent failure to get into their stride in the semi-final showed no sign of being revisited as the West Germans lined-up against a USSR side that was itself a scant memory of the 1960s behemoth. The match bore all the hallmarks of the old adage of ‘the King is dead; long live the King’, as the West Germans veritably tore into their opponents. Bouyed by a new-found level of belief, the West Germans prowled the surface of the Heysel Stadium as if it were their own, and the opening goal never seemed too far away, eventually arriving through the reliable instep of Müller after 27 minutes. Half-time recorded West Germany as having enjoyed over 60% of the ball, and an equal territorial advantage. Within 15 minutes of the restart, it was all over; Herbert Wimmer netting the second on 52 minutes, and Müller rounding things off just six minutes later, to register the largest ever winning margin in a European Championship final. The harmony of the performance was summed up by Müller as the final whistle blew: “we understand one another on and off the pitch, and you can’t ask for any more than that. Everything worked”.

 

Final

18/06/1972Heysel Stadium43,437 West Germany

Müller 27’, 58’

Wimmer 52’

3-0

(1-0)

USSR

 

The West Germans took six places in the overall Team of the Tournament, Beckenbauer, Breitner, Hoeneβ, Netzer, Heynckes and Müller lining up alongside four Soviets, and one Belgian.

 

Gerd Müller took the Golden Boot with 11 goals across all stages (five in the post-Group phase), to go with his Europe-wide equivalent. Beckenbauer secured the European Footballer of the Year title, and the quintessential West German ascendancy and efficiency was spawned; thus to dominate the next decade.

HSV vs The Set Piece

This season, Hamburger SV have seen their net ripple on no fewer than 22 occasions as the result of an opposing set-play. Having shipped 50 goals in total in the 1.Bundesliga from their 28 fixtures to date, a figure of forty-four per cent of all goals conceded coming from the more formulaic aspects of the beautiful game is undoubtedly a concern. And yet the questions as to why this is the case remain.

Of those 22, four have come from the penalty spot, with a further three the result of direct free-kicks (with two of those epitomising some of the lack of good fortune afforded Hamburg by being deflected beyond the luckless Jaroslav Drobny). Discounting those seven; ten and come from corners that haven’t been cleared, with the remaining five from a failure to properly defend free-kicks.

In terms of their overall susceptibility, the recent clean sheet recorded against Kaiserslautern on Matchday 28 was only the fourth shutout this term. That is the joint-lowest total in the league, and came as their first in seven games. In that same time, ten of the 13 goals conceded have come from set-pieces of one sort or another. Yet the seven matches prior to the 1-0 win over Köln on Matchday 21 saw HSV breached just eight times; and only thrice via dead ball situations. Their profligacy is still further confused by the apparent recognition of it by Coach Thorsten Fink. After the 3-1 loss to Schalke on Matchday 25, Fink bemoaned his side’s lack of discipline over free-kicks – “we can’t afford to defend like that”, only to see his backline switch off again as Freiburg delivered an imaginative set-play third, to put Hamburg to the sword just a week later on.

Assessing where the fault may lie over the deficiency is difficult to pinpoint. And Fink is certainly not a coach with a reputation for blindness in this area – recall the dogmatic way his Basel side restricted the creativity of Manchester United in both of their Champions’ League matches. Yet it is hard to countenance the rudimentary way in which they appear to defend both corners and free-kicks.

Corners

Taking the game against Schalke on Matchday 25 as an example:

Employing a standard man-to-man marking system, and with men on both front and back posts, there is a tendency to leave the edge of the six-yard box and penalty spot free. This gives opposing forwards space to attack the ball, and freedom to move.

In addition, if the offensive side adopt a ‘blitz’ sort of grouping before the kick is taken, the defenders are drawn into circling them (left). This makes it harder to get in amongst them and disrupt their runs.

There is also an apparent inclination for ‘keeper Drobny to stay on his line. His rationale here is probably vested in a lack of belief in his defenders, given the relative inexperience. But in that sense it becomes self-fulfilling, with no dominant presence from the defensive standpoint.

As the corner-taker steps up, there is a naïve inclination for the man on back post to drift. The attackers burst at the same time, making runs tough for the defence to track. That combination then leaves the ‘keeper exposed, and rooted to his line as players converge towards him along the edge of the six yard box, and space is crowded.

Coupled with an in-swinging trajectory to the ball (all but one of the goals ceded by HSV from corners have come from in-swinging plays), and uncertainty ensues.

Such plays heavily on the youthful inexperience of the back four, once again highlighting the lack of a controlling hand.

Free Kicks

Taking the game against Bayern on Matchday 3 as an example:

Once again, Hamburg set up on a man-to-man marking basis, with a defensive line angled towards the back post to match the flight of an in-swinging ball.

With seven defenders against five forwards, HSV should have all the armoury they should need. However, a run from Holger Badstuber across the first spare man (indicated by the dotted red arrow) pulls the group towards the front edge of the six-yard box. As Daniel van Buyten (indicated by the yellow arrow) parallels the line of this run, his marker is blocked by Mario Gomez, causing a momentary hesitation. Van Buyten thus gains a yard of space, and rises unchallenged to head home.

What is also notable from the touchline view is how the HSV line fails to move back with their men, leaving two Bayern players unmarked at the far post for any rebounds. Yet more ill-disciplined defence, with players drawn towards the ball.

There is little doubt that the off-field issues surrounding the Club are weighing heavy, and a certain element appears to be manifesting on the pitch too. Combine that with an apparently inherent lack of discipline – most evident through Paolo Guerrero’s horrific foul on Sven Ulreich, which resulted in an eight-game ban – and the distractions for the playing staff are many.

However, as profligate as HSV have been at the back, they have proven themselves fairly well-adept at the other end; with eleven goals in their favour coming from set-pieces.

And Fink – forever with tactical acumen to the fore – has attempted to capitalise on both aspects that this has highlighted, telling the City’s Abendblett newspaper “If we concede goals from set-pieces, the team will pay, but if we score goals, then they will earn money”. That step echoes one he employed during his tenure with Red Bull Salzburg when he was faced with a similar deficiency.

Moreover, Fink’s team currently have a goal difference of -18, which is the worst they have ever had to endure at any stage during the 48-year history of Germany’s top flight, and ahead of Matchday 22’s game with Werder, it certainly appeared that the pressure was beginning to tell. As the 44-year old was interviewed by NDR television, he angered: “Players are not machines and sometimes they have off days. We were a solid unit before Christmas, but maybe some people thought after our draw with Monchengladbach that that was it”. Before going on to ominously opine: “Maybe some people have not fully understood”.

The game with ‘Lautern was probably precisely what HSV needed come Matchday 28, with the visitors having managed to go the entirety of the second half of last season without scoring from a corner. But with six games remaining, they find themselves removed from the relegation play-off berth only on goal difference. Their next game is at home to Leverkusen this weekend, where a response to the departure of Robin Dutt is expected from the away side. Then come the proverbial ‘six-pointers’, with games away to both Nürnberg and Augsburg sandwiching a home tie with Mainz. 59 per cent of their victories so far have come on the road, and they will need that form to be confirmed to survive. But it can certainly still be considered that their destiny is in their own hands: whether that is a positive or not may well depend on Fink garnering more of a solidity to his defence, and the way in which they occupy their own space against the appropriately-monikered ‘dead-ball’ situation.

Poker Face: Heynckes v The Pretenders

A Wave Goodbye?

Despite an amazing run of recent form, Bayern have suffered some key losses this season. Kyle Barber, investigates.

So far this season, Jupp Heynckes has fallen foul of six domestic defeats. That tally represents just one fewer than last season’s total, and could scarcely have looked further away during their eponymous run of 1,147 minutes without conceding so much as a goal, let alone three points. The opening round 1-0 reversal to ‘Gladbach was quickly cast as a mere speed bump on the inevitable road back to Bundesliga triumph. After all, the long-sought Manuel Neuer had joined, Robben and Ribéry posed the most vibrant wide threat inEurope, and the much-vaunted Jupp Heynckes had returned to revise the shadows that still clouded the end of his previous tenure, in 1991.

However, in retrospect that 1. Spieltag defeat offered portent for similar results yet to come. Thus far in 2011-12, Bayern have registered 16 wins, garnering 51 points, and finding the net on 58 occasions (at a ratio of 2.32 goals per game). However, the Bavarians have regularly found periods of promising form punctuated by debilitating defeats. Over the six losses sustained, the Bavarians have leaked 12 goals, managing just four themselves. And perhaps more concerning, each of those occasions has seen them tactically outmanoeuvred, with creativity stifled, and Plan B conspicuous by its absence.

There is little dispute that, man-for-man, Bayern have the standout starting eleven and squad in the Bundesliga. Yet the common thread running through their league losses is that they have all been to sides bossed by coaches regarded as being both tactically and sequentially astute. Cast against the dogmatic – bordering on stubborn – commitment to personnel and formation nominally adopted by Heynckes has appeared tired and archaic. By restricting the time and space afforded to Bayern’s wide men – from the more robust man-to-man marking shown by Dortmund in their victory at the Allianz Arena on Matchday 13; to the attacking verve employed by Mainz that forced them back into unfamiliar areas of the field just one week later – coupled with a disciplined back four (reinforced by at least one holding central midfielder) in all instances, opponents have limited Bayern’s principal routes of attack to looking distinctly prosaic.

As a result, the energy and creativity of the likes of Schweinsteiger and Kroos is rendered redundant. The expectation then to perform, whether home or away and brought largely by the weight of history, lends itself to Bayern invariably over-committing. Set a natural 4-4-2, or more fluid 4-2-3-1, against that – mounted on pace through the front two or three and a pivotal figure in the central midfield berth (think Reus and Arango for ‘Gladbach, or Pinto and Rausch for Hannover) – and the exposure to a vibrant counter-attack has proved stark.

There were further signs of the Bavarian’s potential for a readily-blunted attack last season. With eight draws, only four teams recorded more – they had already displayed a propensity for being stopped. The subsequent decision to reinforce their backline rather than enhance their attacking options was understandable (they shipped 40 goals during their league campaign – 18 more thanDortmund), but missed a real source of limitation that has since come to the fore. Heynckes apparent reticence to adapting his approach in respect of the opposition merely serves to add to the evident frustrations both on and off the pitch, casting an exasperation in him that then accentuates the pressure on his players, increasing the tension which further hinders the talents at his disposal.

Four of a Kind?

Aces in the Pack

Thomas Tuchel

Thomas Tuchel is some 28 years the junior of Jupp Heynckes. Yet the Mainz Head Coach is swiftly establishing a burgeoning reputation for tactical acumen, coupled with a style of football that epitomises the definition of being greater than the sum of its constituent parts. Having taken charge of first team affairs ahead of the 2009-10 season, Tuchel imbedded a dogmatic work ethic amongst his squad, with no little skill and an eye for youth development. His second campaign saw him quickly face down any remaining sceptics by leading Mainz to a sequence of seven straight wins.

Tuchel is widely touted as the ultimate successor to Heynckes, principally for reasons mused by the venerable Rafael Hönigstein: “Mainz are created in their manager’s image – young, eager players happy to learn new things. And teach rivals a few too”!

Mirko Slomka

Mirko Slomka parallels Tuchel in a notable number of ways, not least amongst which is his adoption of the counter-attack as his weapon of choice. His tenure at Hannover has been prefaced by a need to use the tools at his disposal. Yet, with a limited transfer fund, he has turned a 17th placed side into one still creating waves in second-tier European competition, and all in a little over two years. The perfect balance of a resolute back four – one noted for its parsimonious nature – and a fluid attacking verve, spearheaded by Mohammed Abdellaoue and Didier Ya Konan, has become an identifying factor of the team. As has the implementation of Slomka’s defining ‘ten second rule’ – whereby the team must work hard for ten seconds to directly regain possession after losing is, before reverting to two banks of four. Such was epitomised in their Matchday 10 win, where they covered some 6km more than Bayern, and were restricted to just 37% of the ball.

Lucien Favre

Having taken charge of ‘Gladbach on Valentine’s Day last year, it would be no exaggeration to say the love affair between Club and Head Coach is still very much in its veritable honeymoon phase. Still justifiably able to be considered part of the title race, the pairing have also held something of an Indian sign over Bayern during their time together. As the only side to take maximum points from the Bavarians this year (so far), the feel good factor engendered in his squad by the Swiss tactician has been at its most evident through the countering style built around the machinations and undoubted talents of Marco Reus. There is a growing degree of upper-hierarchical support for Favre at Bayern, with Karl-Heinz Rummenigge having touted the 54-year old this time last year.

Robin Dutt

At the end of last season, Robin Dutt was the immediate choice to follow Heynckes into the principal role at the helm in Leverkusen. Cast forth nine months, and there is a growing groundswell of opinion that sees him as doing the same once more at Bayern. The attentive and aggressive way he set his side up to directly match Bayern recently in their 2-0 win will have done much to impress both Munich fans and higher echelons. In that game, Leverkusen matched Bayern on shots and territory – albeit with a more direct style – and showed a good deal more endeavour (covering some 7km more over the course of the 90 minutes). The direct 4-2-3-1 like-for-like formation may also have suggested he has the formative ability to use the tools that would be immediately at his disposal. And the shark-like manner in which he sought to capitalise on Bayern’s humiliation in their away tie to Basel will also have appealed, as will his more amiable relationship with – and handling of – Michael Ballack. One element that may count against him, though, could be the rather more lacklustre surrender yielded in the 3-0 vohr-ründe loss in the reverse fixture on Matchday 7.

The Joker

Jürgen Klopp

Joker in the Pack

In amongst all the wider considerations as to who may be next in the Bayern hotseat is the proverbial ‘Joker’: the irrepressible Jürgen Klopp. To continue the metaphorical references; Klopp is the ‘elephant-in-the-room’ when it comes to who the Bayern top-brass would truly like to don the head trainer’s tracksuit. Moreover, he is also the predominant choice amongst the fans, and the likely retention of the Bundesliga title this term will do little to assuage that desire. In that vein, Klopp’s achievements and heraldry tells more than the bare facts: Dortmund’s success underlines Bayern’s relative failure. It also shows that they are no longer the overbearing domestic force; unable to simply buy-up the resources of their greater opposition, nor cherry-pick the best National talent – accentuated by Reus’s decision to head Northeast to them, rather than South to Munich.

The Here and Now

It’s not all negative for Heynckes and his players though by any means – they’re some nine points better off than at this stage last term; have scored more; conceded less; and sit just five points offDortmund, rather than the 19 of 2010-11. And when the likes of Gomez, Ribéry, Robben, Müller and Schweinsteiger are firing, Bayern invariable triumph. That was certainly underlined by their midweek annihilation of Basel, as well as the 13 league goals they’ve registered since the debilitation of losing to Leverkusen. Some of the problems which have manifested this term are also rooted in the changes in management over the last 12 months, and the disagreement fostered amid the Bayern hierarchy.

Indeed, there is some thought that Heynckes failure would please certain areas of that senior group, with his appointment seen by many as having been motivated by a polar reaction to the approach adopted by predecessor Louis van Gaal. The Dutchman had been cited as the archetypal tactician, but had a method that ruffled more than few feathers. In contrast, Heynckes offered a more grounded, tender approach that was intended to restore the feel good factor to both the dressing room and training ground. Yet even at that stage – and as reported by Bild this past week – the names of Slomka and Favre were also in the frame, but were debarred from further consideration due to their relative anonymity amongst the casual fan, and global standing (not to mention the political determinations of the Munich ‘upstairs’; with it being seen as Rummenigge’s turn to pick after Uli Hoeneß’s choice – Heynckes – failing to meet expectations). Hoisted by their own petard 12 months ago, Bayern could easily find themselves in the same predicament once more; especially should they land their ultimate goal this year, and lift the Champions’ League trophy in their very own back yard.

The DFB Pokal – a potted history

Hans von Tschammer und Osten is unlikely to be a name that resonates to any great depth, or which means a notable amount to many. However, next Tuesday and Wednesday, his legacy will, once again, be reprised – albeit in something of a reinvented form – as the DFB Pokal enters the quarter-final stage.

Given the post of Reichssportkommisar (later retitled Reichssportführer) in 1933, von Tschammer und Osten had no real interest in sport, to the extent that many believed his appointment was originally intended for his brother. Yet his standing in the Nazi sporting annuls was cemented in 1935, when he announced the formation of a competition “open to 14,000 football clubs”, and donated the resplendent Goldfasanen-Pokal (Golden Pheasant Cup) as the prize, engraved with his name.

By Christmas of that year, the very first final had come and gone, with Nürnberg getting the better of Schalke by 2 goals to nil, in front of a reported 55,000 fans in Düsseldorf. As a showpiece of the Nazi ideal, the Tschammerpokal was hailed an undoubted triumph, and began to grow in entrant numbers and popularity. The adoption into the Nazi philosophy was more clearly evidenced just over 12 months later, as the final moved home to the newly-reconstructed Olympiastadion, in Berlin. With its foundations embedded in those of its Prussian-built predecessor, the stadium was the very embodiment of the Nazist mantra, as cast in the unmistakable, quintessential architecture of the time. Having been the predominant site for the 1936 Olympic Games, the stadium was ideal as the venue for a burgeoning competition, and would play host to the final for six of the next eight years.

Those early years saw Schalke feature on a regular basis, though die Königsblauen only managed one victory from the five finals they contested, as not even the advent of World War Two could halt the competition. The last knockings of the inaugural version did, however, come in 1943, as the ravages of war finally took hold. And in an ironic twist, as Hitler’s empire began to subside, the Tschammerpokal also left the geographical bounds of Germany, First Vienna triumphing 3-2 (after extra time) over Hamburg.

It would be almost ten years until the Cup was reprised, and a further thirty before the final returned to Berlin.

A New Dawn

In a few days’ time – on the 7th – the minnows of Holstein Kiel will square off against last year’s Bundesliga champions, Borussia Dortmund, in the very definition of ‘a potential banana skin’ for the illustrious visitors. And it was under the rebranded guise of the DFB Pokal that the tournament first began to foster a reputation for being the ‘great leveller’, encompassing the vibrancy and revitalisation being felt across the divided nation in the post-War era. Such was encapsulated in the very first round of its first year back, as the relative unknowns of Concordia Hamburg put the giants of Dortmund to the sword; 4-3. And, as if to fully shed the skin of the memories of past associations, the 1953 final was held on the same ground as the very first, purging Düsseldorf of all remaining connotations.

However, one source of discomfort did remain into the fresh, bold age of German football – the Goldfasanen-Pokal itself. By the end of summer 1949, the DFB had been resurrected, and lay under the directorship of Dr Paul Josef Bauwens. The former referee and player had ascended to the helm of the organisation, embodying a more tolerant, inclusive era. With a Jewish wife, ‘Peco’ – as he was affectionately known – found the trophy to remind him a little too much of the persecution and quintessential anti-Semitism of the Nazi machine for comfort. Yet it wasn’t until 1965 – almost 12 months after his death – that a permanent replacement was designed.

Weighing around 27kg (12.5lb), and with an estimated market worth of some €100,000, ‘The Pot’ is one of the most iconic and valuable Cups on offer in modern sport, and the eight remaining sides in this year’s competition represent a cross-section of everything trumpeted by contemporary Germany, and envisaged for the prescient nature of her sport.

Quarter-final line-up:
07/02/2012 Holstein Kiel – Borussia Dortmund
08/02/2012 1899 Hoffenheim – Greuther Fürth
08/02/2012 Hertha Berlin – Borussia Mönchengladbach
08/02/2012 VfB Stuttgart – Bayern Munich

The current format of the Pokal largely dates back to 1974, and the formation of the 2.Bundesliga. Since that point, all Bundesliga and 2.Bundesliga sides have enjoyed automatic entry to the first round proper (along with the top four 3.Bundesliga teams from the previous season). That privilege takes 40 of the 64 spots in round one, with the other 24 coming from regionalliga cup champions (of which there are 21), and the three most populous regional associations. Since 2008, reserve teams have been banned from entering. Rounds one and two then see the amateur/ lower ranked sides given home draws against those of more renown, over 90 minutes, without replays (a decision dating back, once again, to the 1974 season).

With last year’s winners – Schalke – having already succumbed, and the other three sides from this year’s Bundesliga top four all drawn away from home, the opportunity for European competition beckons for Kiel, Hoffenheim, Greuther Fürth, Hertha and VfB. The most recent of the eight remaining teams to have enjoyed success (other than Bayern) was VfB, and that was all the way back in 1997, when they triumphed over Cottbus by two goals to nil (though they also reached the final ten years on, losing out to Nürnberg, 3-2). Fürth, Hertha, Hoffenheim and Kiel, meanwhile, have never hoisted the eight-litre pot aloft (the latter two having never even reached the semi-final stage before).

Bayern – somewhat unsurprisingly – are the most successful side in the contest’s history, with 15 wins and two runners-up berths to their name. ‘Gladbach have three wins (alongside two further finals), and Dortmund have a 50-50 record over their four final appearances.

Whatever happens over the two days of quarter-final action, it has never been more true to acclaim of the Pokal as being in rude health. And the May showpiece – which has been held in Berlin as a matter of course since 1985 – will no doubt produce its requisite carnival feast of colour and football. While other nations’ cup competitions appear on the wane, Hans von Tschammer und Osten’s creation has grown to wondrous proportions, shedding its initial forbearance, and embracing a composite culture in a way that fundamentally celebrates all that is great about German football!

Borussia Mönchengladbach v Bayern Munich: Preview

‘Gladbach v Bayern: The Second Half of the Season Starts with a Bang!

  

In Matchday One, Borussia Mönchengladbach’s 1-0 triumph in the Allianz Arena (courtesy of the opportunism of Igor de Camargo, and severe lack of communication between Manuel Neuer and Jerome Boateng) was largely dispelled by fans and analysts alike as part of Bayern’s inevitable teething problems as they looked to bed into a new coaching regime, and revised defensive line. Indeed, having dominated the attempts on target (17:8), possession (with 59%) and crosses (27:0), such assertions would certainly look to have some merit. Cast forward 17 fixtures, and the best part of five months, and Bayern’s occupation of top spot in the Bundesliga would further bear that out.

However, what that victory did for ‘Gladbach and their fans was to reinforce the turnaround in fortunes enjoyed under the thus far remarkable tenure of Lucien Favre. The 54-year old took charge on Valentine’s Day 2011, and it’s fair to say that the relationship is still firmly entrenched in the honeymoon phase. Since taking the helm, the former Hertha coach has enjoyed a record of 17 wins, 5 draws, and just 8 defeats, guiding his team to fourth spot in the league, and the Quarter Final stage of the Pokal (where they meet Hertha in February). Nigh-on twelve months previously, that lofty position looked a long way off, with the side cast adrift at the foot of the table.

Last year, a 3-all draw at the Borussia Park and a 1-0 win for Bayern at the Allianz – the latter of which saw them finally occupying a Champions’ League spot, through Arjen Robben’s 77’ strike – indicated that, in actuality, there was little to choose between the two sides; save perhaps the belief engendered by positive results. And that indication has proven to be a solid prophecy for the current campaign. Much of the credit for the lofty traverse enjoyed by the Rhineland side has, justifiably, been levelled towards boss Lucien Favre.

Favre has served to put great store in a solid spine, as the fundamental part of his formation. And with the lineage of Marc-André ter Stegen, Dante and Felip Daems, Roman Neustädter and Marco Reus, and the much-maligned Mike Hanke, The Foals have arguably as resilient and dominant a backbone as any in the league. Favre has also alternated between a more standard 4-4-2, and a modified 4-4-1-1 that looks to emphasise the impact of Reus (deployed behind the striker), and Juan Arango. There is no doubt that those two have flourished, with Reus leading the Club’s scoring charts (with 10), and Arango heading the assists column (seven).

Fortress Borussia

Bayern, for their part, do not normally travel well to Mönchengladbach, having won there only once in the last nine visits, and that was some six years ago. That fact, however, has certainly not dented the confidence of Jupp Heynckes, who wrapped up their winter friendlies by boldly claiming: “We’re very well prepared heading into the second half of the season. Perfection is impossible to achieve in football, but we have a team which gives us every reason to be optimistic going forward”.

His apparent optimism was reinforced by two stars whose collective return to both fitness and form should sound a note of caution to ‘Gladbach: Messrs Robben and Schweinsteiger; who were both quick to suggest the break was indeed “perfect” for the Bavarian giants. The imminent return of the talismanic 90-cap international may have tempered Heynckes’ desire to focus too greatly on that area, or to delve into the transfer market with any gusto. And the Bayern head-honcho will be hoping for a swift return to form from ‘Schweini’, addressing the deficiencies so evident before the Christmas period, especially against Mainz and Dortmund.

In due deference to the ever-present pressure from the Bayern hierarchy (who have collectively dismissed the challenge of ‘Gladbach as little more than an irritation), Heynckes is likely to deploy both wingmen (Robben and Ribéry) alongside Thomas Müller, and behind the prolific Mario Gomez. So the reliance on the presence of Schweinsteiger will be immediately obvious, and with no side having kept ‘Gladbach from scoring at home so far this season, it is likely to be the midfield where the game is won or lost, with the home side liable to sit deep to use their counter-attacking speed: a tactic still more than tolerated against the Munich behemoth.

From a ‘Gladbach perspective, it is to be hoped that the confirmed summer departure of their own figurehead – Marco Reus, to Dortmund – does not have a equivalent destabilising impact to the previously MIA Schweinsteiger; and nor does the likewise move of Neustädter to Schalke.

On top of all other considerations, the two sides go into battle very much from divergent standpoints. While Bayern’s ascension simply marks a return to the status-quo, there is a distinct air of entering the ‘unknown’ for their Friday night hosts. Whether the five-week break will have fostered a change in mantra from ‘Gladbach seems unlikely – with captain Daems this week opining that we want to pick up a point or maybe even more…and deserve to be in fourth place. [W]e demonstrated in the first half of the season that we’re strong enough to deal with what may come” – but Favre will hope that his eleven will continue to play with the refreshing freedom of the first half of the season, without fearing thoughts of European competition to come.

One thing is for sure; ‘Gladbach’s position of mixing it in the top-four is fully merited. Indeed, as their prodigious shot-stopper ter Stegen commented to Bild this week: “[Being fourth] is no miracle. We work hard every day in training, and deserve to be there!”

While that position may feel like we’ve slipped into a time warp back to the ‘Gladbach heyday of the 1970s, it is very much the here-and-now. And the very worst mistake that Bayern could make would be to underestimate The Foals’; particularly in their own back yard.

For what it’s worth, I’m plumbing for a seat firmly on the fence: 1-1.