Duisburg beat Kaiserslautern in the quarter-finals of the DFB-Pokal as Milan Šašić got one over his former employers. Goals from Branimir Bajić and Goran Šukalo in either half saw the second division side beat their top-flight visitors comfortably at the noisy Schauinsland-Reisen-Arena. They’ll now join fellow 2. Bundesliga side Energie Cottbus in the last-four of Germany’s premier cup competition.
Kaiserslautern came into the game on the back of a 5-1 defeat at the hands of an Arjen Robben-inspired Bayern. Duisburg were also eager to eliminate an iffy result out of their system – they drew 1-1 away at lowly Ingolstadt on the weekend.
Kaiserslautern took a while to line-up their back-four, all of whom seemed incapable of communicating to one another, making simple forward passes under minimal pressure, or gauging how close they were to their colleagues on either side, and goalkeeper Tobias Sippel. However, they were let off by the fact that The Zebras only managed to carve out one chance from Lautern’s blunders, and Stefan Maierhofer’s woeful finish illustrated why he failed to make the grade at either Wolves, Bristol City or Bayern.
To be fair to the permanently scowling Austrian and all 21 others on the field of play, the surface was terrible. Nevertheless, Olcay Şahan was undeterred, and counter-attacked freely and regularly; a constant thorn in Florian Dick’s side. The young Turk wasn’t the only one injecting energy into Duisburg’s game – on-loan Dortmund youngster Julian Koch, playing behind Maierhofer, had something of the Shinji Kagawa about him. However, despite the Japanese international being – possibly – ruled out until the end of the season, Koch won’t be the man to replace him. What he lacks in technique and composure on the ball is certainly made up for with bravery, gusto, and penetration, but if Jurgen Klopp’s side are to stay ahead of the pack, it won’t be with players like Koch in the starting XI.
He served a purpose for Šašić though, and was the perfect link-up man to instigate attacking moves or keep them alive. Their opponents, on the other hand, went about things in a more direct manner. It was all a bit too legs in then hoof from Lautern (although former Brighton ‘keeper David Yelldell also only knew one way of distributing the ball to his 2. Bundesliga teammates), but even when did they make rare steps into the final-third, Duisburg’s defence were well-drilled – cutting out passes, and tracking diagonal darts.
Marco Kurz’s side began to settle, and structurally, they soon found a far better shape: one they could impose on their hosts, and use to push them back. However, Duisburg pressed the ball fiercely around the halfway line, and forced Kaiserslautern out wide (a tactic they didn’t seem that bothered in using, as it gave them the chance to pump balls into the box for the growling, gangly and far too anonymous Srđan Lakić). They did occasionally get in behind the full-backs (using Şahan’s counter-attacks to launch their own), although Chadli Amri played the wrong ball twice – both times squaring into a congested six-yard-box, as opposed to pulling back for Adam Nemec, who’d floated into a crop circle of space.
As the half grew old, Kaiserslautern gradually got their playmaker Nemec into the game. However, the Slovakian was only able to thread one or two balls in behind the home team, and these were then wasted by his teammates. Kaiserslautern started trying to draw Duisburg higher up the pitch by building aimlessly from the back. But they were pressed high, and relentlessly so. This led to Duisburg regaining the ball – and thus control – and it was they who started making the defence-splicing passes. The majority of these were too heavy, but one of the set-pieces they won, normally by shielding the ball and playing for a corner (the man cowering over it knowing that the hulking presence of Rodnei would allow him to proceed no further), led to the game’s opening goal. Using their novel corner-kick-taking tactic (lining up a left-footer and a right-footer over the ball, and keeping the Kaiserslautern defenders on tenterhooks), Benjamin Kern curled a right-footer from the right-side of the pitch into the ‘mixer’. Sippel’s punch may have been tame, but the lack of will or energy his defence showed in leaping up to nod away the dropping ball was appalling. Duisburg took advantage, flicking it over to the back post where journeyman Bosnian centre-back Bajić used his forehead to steer into an unguarded net.
The second half was more open from the off, but Kaiserslautern carried on as they had left off – dominating possession, but rarely troubling Yelldell (save for a long-ranger from Lakić that was identical to one attempted by Christian Tiffert in the first half – both of which required fingertips). But their passing was now crisper, and they were beginning to find chinks in the Duisburg defence, and get their opponents running back and fore. However, disaster soon struck in the form of another poorly defended set-piece. Lakić’s failure to adequately track one-time Slovenian international Šukalo led to the midfielder having the simplest of headers to ripple the net with. It could, and probably should, have been 3-0 moments later. With the Kaiserslautern rearguard all at sea, Koch placed a right-footed pass-shot at goal the wrong side of the left-hand post.
It was all-out warfare from the away side now, as they sought to resuscitate their hopes of earning a place in the semi-finals. Tiffert was on the right, and well fed; pinging in crosses like the German version of David Beckham. Alas, The Zebras defended doggedly. Šašić had altered his tactics in order to maintain a balance, but simultaneously, keep them as tactics that would allow his side to press the ball at the halfway point. Their 4-1-4-1 system saw Kurz chuck on another attacking midfielder (Erwin Hoffer) in a bid to pull some of the home side’s entrenched defenders out of position. But Duisburg held on for a well-deserved victory, despite their persistence in giving the ball away, and now stand just 90 minutes away from the cup final!