For the first time since being newly founded in 2003, 1. FC Lok Leipzig from the north-east regional league will be competing in the DFB-Pokal. On Saturday at 15:30 CEST, they face Bundesliga side Bayer 04 Leverkusen. In an interview with DFB.de, Lok coach and sporting director Almedin Civa speaks about the clash with the Europa League outfit, against whom he once played in the DFB-Pokal himself.
DFB.de: DFB-Pokal and Bayer 04 Leverkusen: ring any bells, Mr Civa? Almedin
Civa: Of course! In 2009 I played against Leverkusen in the first round during my time at SV Babelsberg 03. As a regional league side, we held our own well against the Bundesliga stars and only lost 1-0. It was a nice experience, one that I like to reminisce about.
DFB.de: One of your opponents that day was Toni Kroos, who went on to win a World Cup and four Champions League titles. Could you tell back then that he had a big career ahead of him?
Civa: You could definitely see his tremendous quality. It wasn’t like he was unknown back in 2009 either. Toni Kroos was loaned to Bayer 04 Leverkusen from Bayern München and was already among the best players in the team. As I was lucky enough to play 15 DFB-Pokal games in total, Toni Kroos was by no means the only famous pro I ever played against. Thomas Häßler, World Cup winner and European champion, Germany international Sebastian Deisler, to name a couple.
DFB.de: What was your best DFB-Pokal experience as a player?
Civa: Reaching the next round is always the best feeling. So it was probably the 1-0 win with Babelsberg against then Bundesliga side SpVgg Unterhaching in the 1999/2000 second round. In the following round we were on the brink of beating SC Freiburg as well, but lost 4-2 after extra time. But the games against Leverkusen, Hertha BSC, Borussia Mönchengladbach and VfB Stuttgart were all unforgettable experiences too. Beating St. Pauli on penalties after a tough fight in 1998/99 and reaching the last 16 is also up there with those experiences.
DFB.de: You now work in a different capacity as 1. FC Lok Leipzig coach and sporting director in the north-east regional league. This is the club’s first time in the DFB-Pokal since their new foundation in 2003. Can you sense the excitement at the club ahead of this tie against Bayer 04 Leverkusen?
Civa: Absolutely – we’ve been talking about the game a lot for several weeks now. The players from round here especially are extremely pumped for the game. We are allowed to welcome 6,800 fans to our Bruno-Plache-Stadion and are looking forward to a fantastic atmosphere.
DFB.de: How do you rate your team’s chances of causing an upset?
Civa: I’ve always been a very humble person and I know that this is a very unbalanced encounter between a regional league side and a side competing in the Europa League. Leverkusen are not just a Bundesliga outfit, they are one of the best teams in Germany. If we give the opposition too much room and let them play, the game could be over very quickly. We want to avoid that. We know that cup sensations are not impossible, I learnt that as a player, but everything has to be spot on in order for it to be possible. Every single player has to go above and beyond.
DFB.de: Lok have started the season with four points from a possible nine. What do you make of this?
Civa: After a 4-1 defeat to open the season against league leaders BFC Dynamo, we were all quite disappointed. We showed them too much courtesy and BFC killed us, especially in the second half. So it was a deserved defeat. We can be pleased with the two games since then against Optik Rathenow and FC Carl Zeiss Jena. In Rathenow we beat a tough team 3-0, and the 0-0 draw with Jena should also be seen as a positive result. Carl Zeiss Jena have a team almost exclusively made up of ex pros and they are among the favourites to go up in my opinion. If you play against a team like that and don’t give them any chances, it is a success. So we can definitely see an improvement and we are ready for this cup game against Leverkusen.
DFB.de: After winning the league in 2019 and only narrowly missing out on promotion to the 3. Liga, your team was in seventh place when the league was cancelled last season. What are the club’s goals this season?
Civa: Lok Leipzig had a five-year plan, which was almost completed in 2019 through promotion to the pro leagues. After that, we lost our main sponsor and had to build a new, young squad on a smaller budget. We quickly found ourselves and rounded off the season by winning the Landespokal. Getting promoted to the 3. Liga obviously remains our big ambition, but it would be presumptuous to set ourselves this aim for this season already. We want to finish in the top 5.