1. FC Saarbrücken have already made history in the DFB-Pokal by becoming the first fourth-division side to make the semi-finals. This coming Tuesday (20:45 CEST) the Regionalliga Südwest champions and future third division side will take on the Bundesliga’s Bayer Leverkusen. In an interview with DFB.de, FCS midfielder Markus Mendler spoke to us about their cup dream.
DFB.de: 1. FC Saarbrücken have already knocked out two Bundesliga sides and two Bundesliga 2 sides on their way to the semi-finals. What has been the most intense moment of the cup so far, Markus?
Markus Mendler: It has to be the penalty shootout against Fortuna Düsseldorf. That was really dramatic and a mix of emotions, since Fortuna had two chances to win the shootout. However, our goalkeeper Daniel Batz kept us in the game and ultimately decided the tie in our favour by saving a fifth penalty. I've never seen anything like it before.
DFB.de: Would that moment be topped by reaching the final?
Mendler: I would definitely say so. Reaching the final in Berlin would be for us all the highlights of our careers, and would crown our incredibly cup run.
DFB.de: It's been a couple of days since FCS achieved its goal of getting promoted to the 3. Liga. Can your side go into the game against Leverkusen with clearer heads as a result?
Mendler: Definitely. Our clear goal at the start of the season was promotion from the Regionalliga Südwest. Now we're happy to have the chance to achieve something more with the game against Leverkusen, even though unfortunately no fans will be there. However, our games in the cup were a bonus for us from the start, so we didn't put any more pressure on ourselves in the past rounds. It doesn't change our view very much; against a team harbouring Champions League ambitions, we're the underdog anyway.
DFB.de: While Leverkusen have been playing games in the Bundesliga since the middle of May, FCS have not played a game in more than three months. How serious is that a disadvantage?
Mendler: We can't dismiss it out of hand. We couldn't even play friendlies. We did some 11v11 games within the club which were pretty competitive. But competitive matches are something else entirely
DFB.de: So are you hoping Leverkusen will be focusing more on the Bundesliga and Champions League qualification?
Mendler: That could be the case. The match takes place only three days after Leverkusen play Bayern anyway. Then Leverkusen have games against Schalke and Cologne. These are definitely important matches for them, but they'll want to reach the cup final.
DFB.de: What is the most important thing to do in order to beat Leverkusen?
Mendler: We can't go into the match anxiously, but rather we need courage and throw ourselves into every tackle. It will also be important to avoid conceding an early goal. The fact we can make five subs thanks to the rulings introduced because of the coronavirus could also help. But let's be honest, we only have a small chance even if Leverkusen don't play at their best level.
DFB.de: How well prepared do you feel after a couple weeks of training for the greatest game in the club's history?
Mendler: We've done as much as we can in training to be best prepared for this, but as I said, we can't replicate a competitive match.
DFB.de: Even though you have to play without fans, is there a home advantage to playing at the Hermann-Neuberger-Stadion in Völklingen?
Mendler: Leverkusen are used to playing in the big stadiums of the Bundesliga and international competitions every week. Since our small stadium in Völklingen is already a huge change for them, maybe it puts us in with a shout.
DFB.de: This year will be the fourth time after 1957, 1958 and 1985 that FCS have reached the DFB-Pokal semi-finals, but the side has never reached the final. How important would another upset be for the club and the region?
Mendler:It would be hard to describe. When you add that to being promoted, the city would explode with joy. There has never been anything else like this in Saarbrücken.
DFB.de: Have you ever given any thought to the fact that FCS are 'only' two wins away from competing in Europe for the first time since 1955?
Mendler: We've already had some fun talking about it in the team, but we all know how far away we are from that.
DFB.de: You played one of your 16 Bundesliga games for 1. FC Nürnberg against Leverkusen. Do you have any memories of that encounter?
Mendler: Our coach at that time was Michael Wiesinger. I came on as a substitute in the final fifteen minutes, and it was my first appearance after a long injury lay-off. So I can still remember it well. We lost 2-0.
DFB.de: Do these past experiences in the top division help you in the DFB-Pokal?
Mendler: Definitely. We have Fanol Perderdaj, Christopher Schorch, Steven Zellner, José Pierre Vunguidica and Daniel Batz who all played in the Bundesliga at one point. You can tell this in the build-up before each cup game, as we'e not as nervous as some of the other Regionalliga players.
DFB.de: You've been playing for 1. FC Saarbruuml;cken since 2016, and your contract runs until 2022. Do you feel at home in Saarland?
Mendler: Yes. First of all, I met my partner Tamara here. You can't rule anything out with football, but there's a chance we could stay in Saarland permanently.
DFB.de: Returning to the 3. Liga has been a clear goal of FCS for many years. How much are you looking forward to the new season?
Mendler: I worked with the team for four years, so the joy and relief at achieving this is huge. We had an outstanding season in 2017/18, but missed out on promotion in our games against 1860 München, which was incredibly bitter for us. Now we can finally look forward to playing in the 3. Liga against a lot of big clubs. There will be a lot of good games, especially if we can play in the Ludwigsparkstadion in Saarbrücken again.
DFB.de: What was the decisive reason, in your opinion, for your promotion and cup successes?
Mendler: We have a really good squad, where everyone gives 100% and everyone is there for each other - just a really well functioning squad with amazing team spirit. That's why we've deservedly gone up and that's the reason why we've succeeded in the DFB-Pokal.
DFB.de: Finally, how excited is the team ahead of a potential trip to Berlin in July?
Mendler: All of us dream about it. We all know it will be incredibly difficult, but we will do everything we can to fulfil our dreams and our fans' dreams.