The third-tier German side that is going on a cup run for the ages … again


One of the unbridled feelings as a football fan (or even as a sports fan) is seeing your team going on an unexpected and positive run. This is especially true for cup competitions with the ability for single elimination games to provide upset results that no one sees coming.

One of these stories is currently taking place on the Western border of Germany – FC Saarbrücken in the third tier. The team made football headlines in November after they shocked Bayern Munich to knock them out of the DFB-Pokal 2-1.

Since that win, they have shocked the German football world and are now a game away from making the biggest game in German football.

For teams like Saarbrücken who linger on the fringe just outside of the top tier of their country’s football pyramid, these sorts of cup runs give their team attention they do not usually receive.

Luca Kerber FC Saarbrücken(Photo by Christian Kaspar-Bartke/Getty Images)

However, the FC Saarbrücken story within the DFB-Pokal is a far more unique one than just a one-off cup run.

Back in 2019-20, they qualified for the DFB-Pokal as a fourth-division team by winning their regional cup. They made it to the semi-finals beating Bundesliga sides FC Koln and Fortuna Dusseldorf, making history as the best performance by a fourth-division team only to be beaten by Bayer Leverkusen in a 3-0 loss.

The now third division club would return to the tournament for the first time since their 2019-20 run and have somehow managed to equal their historic efforts from four years ago with the chance to go one better.

For them to even qualify for the tournament was a miracle in itself. Saarbrücken’s main way of qualification looked like it would be winning the Saarland Region Cup (like they did to qualify for the 19/20 tournament). However, a 3-2 loss in extra time in the final against SV 07 Elversberg would prevent that route of qualification.

The other way for them to qualify in the DFB-Pokal would be through league performance. The teams that finish in the top four of the third division (known as 3. Liga) automatically qualify for the tournament. Although, FC Saarbrücken finished 5th last season in the 3. Liga.

So, if they lost in their regional cup final and finished outside the top four in 3. Liga, how did they qualify?

Well, a decision in 2008 would see the DFB allow reserve teams to play in the newly established and professionalised third division. This was on the provision these teams would not be allowed to play in the DFB-Pokal. This allowed teams in the higher divisions to have their reserve teams compete against tougher competition to help improve player development.

This meant for SC Freiburg II (the reserve team for Bundesliga side SC Freiburg) who finished second last season in 3. Liga, would forfeit their spot in the competition thus going to the next best team which would be FC Saarbrücken.

And with their unorthodox entry, they have certainly made the most of their unlikely circumstance in a rather heart-stopping manner.

In their first-round match-up against second-division side Karlsruher SC, they looked set for extra time with each team scoring a goal in the second half. But a goal from their star striker Kai Brünker in the 90th minute would allow Saarbrücken to progress to the second round.

In the second-round 2-1 win over Bayern Munich, two late goals (from their only two shots on goal), including left-back Marcel Gaus’s 96th shot into the bottom right corner, secured one of the biggest upsets seen in German football. And that was was against a Bayern XI containing Manuel Neuer, Joshua Kimmich and Alphonso Davies amongst other regular starters.

Kai Brünker of 1. FC Saarbrücken (C) celebrates after scoring his teams second goal during the DFB cup quarterfinal match between 1. FC Saarbrücken and Borussia Mönchengladbach at Ludwigsparkstadion on March 12, 2024 in Saarbruecken, Germany. (Photo by Ralf Ibing – firo sportphoto/Getty Images)

In their quarter final match against Borussia Monchengladbach, it took a 93rd-minute strike from Kai Brünker to secure a semi-final berth and repeat their epic feat from four years ago.

The only game that didn’t end with a last-minute finish for the team was their win against Eintracht Frankfurt in the Round of 16. Two second-half goals would put them in the driver’s seat towards the end of the game. A red card to Frankfurt’s Noel Futkeu in the 82nd minute all but confirmed the result.

That is three Bundesliga teams that are currently second, sixth and 12 in the league who have all succumbed to the David-esque performances of FC Saarbrücken.

Now, in between them and a spot in the DFB-Pokal Final is second division side FC Kaiserslautern. This clash does provide a little history between the two as well given that the current manager of FC Saarbrücken Rüdiger Ziehl made his professional debut as a player with Kaiserslautern.

They will play the semi-final early Wednesday morning (AEDT time) to try and go one step further and be the first team from the third division since the 2000-01 season to make the DFB Pokal final. If they are to win on Wednesday morning, they will await the winner of Bayer Leverkusen vs Fortuna Dusseldorf in the final.

Let’s hope for 1. FC Saarbrücken’s sake that history doesn’t repeat itself.

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