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An Introduction to the DFB Pokal

The DFB (German Football Federation) Pokal is the German domestic Cup competition. The cup is played every year, and all teams in the German Bundesliga and the Bundesliga 2 are eligible to play in the knockout tournament.

It is considered the second highest domestic title in German football after the Bundesliga, and it has a reputation for being unpredictable. Whereas some may argue that Bayern Munich, the biggest team in Germany, destroys the competitive nature of German football by buying the best German talent available and winning the Bundesliga year after year, the DFB Pokal is a far more open competition. Whilst the German champions have won the Cup a record 20 times, the current title holders of the DFB Pokal are rivals Borussia Dortmund, and there have been eight different winners of the cup in the past 20 years.

History of the DFB Pokal

The Cup was first formed in 1935, and it was called the Tschammer Pokal, named after Reichssportführer Hans von Tschammer und Osten, then the highest ranking sports official in the Third Reich.

With over 4,100 teams competing in the qualifying rounds, the finals were played between 63 clubs, in six knockout rounds. The winner of the inaugural competition was FC Nurnberg.

The competition proved a huge success, as in those days most German football was either local or regional, and with the teams all amateur and fielding local boys, they had a chance to participate in a nationwide tournament.

The Cup was hosted every year until 1943, when it was suspended due to the war, and eventually it was scrapped with the downfall of Nazi Germany.

The end of the war saw German football practically dissolved, as the German Football Association and the teams were all deemed to be politically affiliated with the regime. New clubs were formed and some older clubs were restructured, and slowly the Germans started to play football again, but there was one thing that stopped the nation from getting back their German domestic cup.

After the war, Germany was divided into East Germany and West Germany, and following the escalations in the 1950s, the teams were also split up, with the Soviets parts forming their own tournaments, and the Western parts forming theirs.

In 1952, almost ten years after the Tschammer Pokal was abandoned, the new DFB (of West Germany) made their own DFB Pokal, and allowed the participation of all the German clubs in the West. However, German clubs were still playing at an amateur level, and slowly but surely most of their best local footballers were being bought by foreign teams and they were leaving German football. Despite this, the German football fans flocked to watch the Cup, with attendances in the inaugural DFB Pokal reaching 40,000.

With the formation of the Bundesliga in 1963, and the advent of professionalism in German football, the teams were suddenly becoming very competitive again, and with the emergence of some of the larger clubs the level of football played in the competition was pushed up.

In 1974 the DFB Pokal was enlarged from 32 teams to 128, but this was later amended to 64 teams in 1984. With the enlargement, amateur teams could be eligible to play in the cup again.

In 2008, the German Bundesliga 3 became professional, increasing the amount of professional teams in the tournament.

Format of the Tournament

The tournament takes place each year from August until May. The knockout starts with a round of 64 teams, including 36 teams from the top two divisions of German football. The teams that finished in the top four of the Bundesliga 3 also automatically receive berths to the DFB Pokal. There are 21 slots given to the winners of the 21 Verbandspokal.

The Verbandspokal are open tournaments that can be used by amateur or professional clubs alike (except for the teams playing in the Bundesliga 1 and 2, or their reserve squads). The cups are held in 21 different regions of Germany and serve as qualifying tournaments in which amateur clubs can secure a place in the DFB Pokal. This theoretically allows any team at any tier of German football to qualify for the DFB Pokal, in line with the DFB’s policy of allowing any potential club to try and compete in the game.

The 21 winners in the 21 different regions receive an entry to the DFB Pokal, and the three remaining berths are given to the three regional associations with the most men's teams. These berths can be assigned in anyway the regional associations see fit, but they are usually given to the runners up in the Verbandspokal.

Biggest Upsets

The Cup has been referred to by Germans as “Die Mutter aller Pokalsensationen”, meaning the mother of all cup sensations. This is due to the surprising number of upsets that occur in the competition. The top two divisions of German league football play against many semi-professional and even some amateur clubs, making it a difficult league to predict as there are many unknowns who play different styles of football. Of course it does not mean that the top flight teams have any handicap, but they can be caught by the smaller teams if they underestimate them by playing a weaker side.

The name “Die Mutter aller Pokalsensationen” was first coined in 1974, when Hamburg SV, who were in the top place in the German Bundesliga played against third division Amateurliga Nordbaden side VfB Eppingen. Hamburg went into the match on the back of an 8–0 win against Romanian football club Steagul Roșu Brașov in the UEFA Cup. Hamburg lost the match 2-1 to the amateur club.

Lightning struck Hamburg twice, when, ten years later they suffered a similar defeat to amateurs SC Geislingen of the Amateur-Oberliga Baden-Württemberg. They lost 2-0 in the 1984 version of the DFB Pokal (the first year it was open to 64 teams). Geislingen went on to the third round, where they were knocked out by a Bundesliga league club, Bayer Uerdingen. While Bayer Uerdingen was playing in the top flight of German football, they were at the bottom of the table, but they went on to make their own surprise upset when they won the Cup, beating favourites Bayern Munich in the finals.

In 1993, the third division NOFV-Oberliga Mitte club Hertha BSC Amateure (the reserve team of Berlin team Hertha BSC), reached the finals. This feat had not been done by an amateur (or back then, third league team) before. Granted they only faced one Bundesliga team in that tournament, 1. FC Nurnberg, who they defeated 2-1. They even knocked out the previous year’s DFB Pokal surprise winners Bundesliga 2 club Hannover 96. Hertha BSC Amateure lost in the finals 1-0 to Bayer Leverkusen.

Hamburg SV fell victim yet again to a weaker side more recently in 2006, when they lost to Stuttgart Kickers, a third division side. The game was set for Hamburg to win, with the score 3-2 to Hamburg going into the final minutes. Stuttgart scored an injury time goal to make the game continue to extra time, where they scored against a demoralized Hamburg team and won the fixture.

In 2012, Berliner AK set a new record, when they thrashed 1899 Hoffenheim 4-0, the biggest winning margin from a fourth division team against a Bundesliga team.

During the 2019 season, 1. FC Saarbrücken of the Regionalliga Südwest league made history when they became the first fourth division team to reach the semi-finals. In their campaign they beat Bundesliga sides 1. FC Koln and Fortuna Dusseldorf.


The DFB Pokal tournament is one of the more interesting tournaments to watch or bet on for those who revel in football where anything can happen. Whilst most games will be won by the favourites, and the performance by the higher ranked team and the odds they are given for a match will reflect that, it is an interesting prospect for anyone who fancy a bit of a risk. Who knows, with a history of freak upsets, you may find yourself lucky.

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