Bayer Leverkusen meet fourth-tier 1. FC Saarbrücken on Tuesday night for a DFB-Pokal semi-final clash, in which they are the clear favourites. DFB.de caught up with 23-year-old Germany international Nadiem Amiri to discuss games behind closed doors, his time in Leverkusen and fulfilling a dream.
DFB.de: Nadiem Amiri, Bayer 04 are heavily favoured to beat Saarbrücken. How are you taking your role as favourites?
Nadiem Amiri: We’re accepting it, of course. The roles are clearly defined when a lower league team meets a Bundesliga side. And we want to justify our role as favourites. We're really motivated and want to set a marker from the first minute that we want to reach the final.
DFB.de: Saarbrücken have knocked out more than one Bundesliga team on their way to the semifinals. What do you think of them?
Amiri: That’s a tough one. They dominated on their way to promotion to the 3. Liga, and have a few players, who’ve played as pros. They’re not your typical Regionalliga side. They’ll be compact and look for chances to hit us on the break. We’ll need to be patient, and an early goal would definitely help us.
DFB.de: Is it an advantage that the Bundesliga is still being played, while the Regionalliga Südwest has been ended?
Amiri: If I played for Saarbrücken, I would definitely want to play some competitive games ahead of this cup tie. You can’t recreate competitive football in training.
DFB.de: The final in Berlin is just one step away. Would it be a dream to reach the final, even though no fans will be in attendance?
Amiri: I’m a sportsman, and there’s nothing better than winning trophies. That’s what you dream of as a kid.
DFB.de: What are your thoughts on games behind closed doors?
Amiri: You get used to it. Of course I’d rather have the fans there with us, but we agreed to the hygiene guidelines as a club. It’s the basis for us being able to play football again, and for us to be able to reach the final of the DFB-Pokal. However, I hope that the fans can come to games next season.
DFB.de: How is the team dealing with this unprecedented situation?
Amiri: We’re trying to make the best of the situation. Without the fans there it’s even more important to self-motivate, and to help your teammate, to cheer him up and cheer him on if something goes wrong.
DFB.de: What’s the feedback from your footballing friends – especially those playing abroad?
Amiri: They’re all watching the Bundesliga right now. They’re happy that we’ve been able to get back out on the pitch. Because for all our professionalism, we’re also footballers who love the game.
DFB.de: You’ve been in Leverkusen since last summer. How has your time with Bayer 04 been thus far?
Amiri: I feel really great here. From the moment I first stepped into the dressing room, I knew I was in the right place. I already knew a few of the players, like Kerem Demirbay, Mitchell Weiser and Jonathan Tah, but the rest gave me the feeling that I was instantly one of them. That made it really easy to adjust. We have the perfect conditions to play successful football.
DFB.de: How do you view your progress?
Amiri: Really good. I’ve played a lot of games. And even more importantly, I’ve learnt a lot and developed as a player. The coaching staff help you to improve your game every day. And you’ve got to give it your all every day, because the quality in training is so high.
DFB.de: Since you’ve been at Leverkusen, you also made your Germany debut. What does that mean to you?
Amiri: I’ve been able to fulfil a dream. When you’re in the U21’s and are getting good feedback, you always hope to get a chance with the men’s national team. But when the time comes, a shiver runs down your spine. I was proud to represent Germany for the first time. And the response I got from friends and family shows what an achievement it is.
DFB.de: What are your goals for the rest of the season?
Amiri: I’m taking it step by step. First; reaching the Pokal final. Then Champions League qualification, and finally getting as far as possible in the Europa League. If we end the season with some silverware, I wouldn’t complain!