As the minutes wore down in yesterday’s DFB Pokal match between Bayern Munich and Holstein Kiel, it looked like it was going to be another run-of-the-mill victory for the Champions of Germany. Sure, it was only 2-1, but Bayern were in control of the game, and Holstein Kiel were beginning to tire. But as the five minutes of stoppage time ticked away, Kiel valiantly pressed on, and with only seconds to spare, Bayern’s defense finally cracked. Left back Johannes van den Bergh attempted a somewhat speculative cross off a half valley, which happened to curl perfectly to meet the head of Hauke Wahl, who had evaded Alphonso Davies and Lucas Hernandez.
Even though Holstein Kiel were jubilant for having equalized, any seasoned Bundesliga fan could have told you that their joy was sure to be fleeting. Bayern would lay siege to Kiel’s goal in extra time, and the upstarts would eventually succumb to the onslaught.
And what a siege it was. As the frigid Baltic wind howled through the Holstein-Stadion, swirling blankets of snow across the pitch, Bayern Munich attacked in full force. With each successive wave of offense, Kiel’s back line retreated further towards their own goal, and with each ball they cleared, their midfielders and forwards dropped deeper in an attempt to contain their opponents, laboring to maintain their defensive shape. They hunched over after every stoppage to catch their breath, their faces marked by exhaustion as the frozen vapor of each agonizing exhale was reflected by the lights of the Holstein-Stadion. But still they fought on. A few nervy loose balls in the box, a few decent shots, and a seemingly endless procession of corners were not enough for the Bavarian Giants. Kiel’s only hope was to make it to penalties, and they managed to do just that. When the whistle blew after 120 grueling minutes, many Kiel players hit the deck with exhaustion.
Bayern were up first in the shootout. White pockets of snow began to cover the pitch, and on multiple occasions players had to readjust the ball after it had blown off the spot. With each Bayern player that scored, another Kiel player would step up and match them. Holstein Kiel’s goalkeeper Ioannis Gelios managed to get his hand on Robert Lewandowski’s penalty kick, and went the right way on three of the next three, but it wasn’t until Marc Roca stepped up and placed his penalty to Gelios’s left, at a height he could reach to parry the shot, that victory finally seemed like more than a just a vague fantasy. With the chance to knock the holders out of the cup, up stepped none other than Fin Bartels, a longtime Bundesliga veteran with St. Pauli and Werder Bremen.
The announcers made a big deal of the fact that Bartels had faced Bayern 12 times in his career, and had never won. Whether Bartels was aware of this, I don’t know, but he was clearly very anxious to take the penalty. It was the quickest run-up I’ve ever seen in my life. It seemed almost instantaneous, the amount of time between the moment he placed the ball on the spot and the moment it struck the net.
Phil Bonney and Steffen Freund went berserk. I went berserk. My Barcelona fan roommate went berserk. Every non-Bayern Bundesliga fan I know was absolutely jubilant.
As Dortmund fans, we’ve become accustomed to rooting against Bayern Munich, often in vain, as they crush all opposition in their path. It’s incredibly frustrating to watch so many Bundesliga clubs put up a valiant effort into the dying moments of the game, only for a last minute Lewandowski header or Sané world-beater to slip through. Bayern’s tendency to find a way to win has undoubtedly damaged the Bundesliga’s international reputation, and has at times made following the Bundesliga an exercise in futility. Bayern’s dominance has even spurred calls for a European Super League, which would surely spell the demise of many smaller clubs that rely on distributed broadcasting funds to stay afloat.
German football desperately needed this upset. Having Bayern, the treble-winners, the best team in the world, lose to Borussia Mönchengladbach or Hoffenheim is one thing, but having them lose to a 2. Bundesliga minnow is a whole different animal. You could tell what it meant to Steffen Freund in particular, who was going nuts in the final minute of stoppage time, struggling to contain squeals of excitement at each loose ball in the box. He told Phil Bonney to shhh as Bartels stepped up to the spot, and both announcers seemed ecstatic that Kiel had won.
Domestic cups are supposed to be more chaotic than league competitions, where any club can win if things go their way. Over the last decade, however, the DFB Pokal has become as repetitive as the Bundesliga, just another arena for Bayern and Dortmund to jockey for a trophy. We’ve seen a number of upsets in the cup so far, but none remotely comparable to this one. Holstein Kiel’s victory will surely remind every other Bundesliga club left in the competition that there’s no such thing as a guaranteed win, even for mighty Bayern Munich.
Sadly, there were no fans in the Holstein-Stadion to enjoy their club’s historic victory. German fans are some of the best in the world, which is why it’s so unfortunate that the COVID pandemic, among many other more important things, has robbed us of a chance to see thousands of euphoric Holstein Kiel fans jumping over themselves in celebration. We may have even seen a pitch invasion; this win was that big. However, just because the fans weren’t in the stands, doesn’t mean they didn’t enjoy it:
Even if you’re a Bayern fan, that has got to bring a smile to your face.