When Bayer 04 Leverkusen and Union Berlin face off in their DFB-Pokal quarterfinal on Wednesday (18:30 CET), a familiar face will once again be in the stands at the BayArena. Stefan Kießling, Leverkusen’s former striker, is now working in an administrative capacity for the club.
DFB.de: You moved from 1. FC Nürnberg to Bayer Leverkusen in 2006 in order to win titles with your new club. Nürnberg, however, won the DFB-Pokal in 2007. That wasn’t ideal, was it?
Kießling: I had to laugh back then. Nürnberg did win the cup, although they were relegated a year later, so for that reason I believe I made the right decision. I was obviously happy for my former club. I’d have loved to have won a trophy with Leverkusen, but that could still happen now in a different capacity.
DFB.de: You reached the final with Leverkusen two years later and narrowly lost 1-0 to Werder Bremen. What do you remember from that day?
Kießling: I actually remember a lot. I can recall the run to Berlin well from that campaign. We had to play our Rückrunde home games in Düsseldorf as the BayArena was being renovated. We were quite poor in the Bundesliga there and only won one game. Despite that, the two cup games against Bayern and Mainz there were amazing. I haven’t forgotten those nights. The trip to Berlin was also something special – the atmosphere alone was something to remember. The final training session in the Olympiastadion was also enjoyable.
DFB.de: That final saw ninth play tenth, which doesn’t sound anything special.
Kießling: Werder had a really good side though – so did we. Naldo, Mertesacker, Özil, Diego, Frings and Pizarro were playing for them – a lot of good players. We had a great side too. The game itself wasn’t that great for neutrals, as there weren’t many chances. Nevertheless, Patrick Helmes had a huge chance for us, which he’d normally score nine times out of ten. He couldn’t score on that occasion though. A deflected effort from Özil went in and won them the game, which was obviously gutting.
DFB.de: Did you manage to soak up the atmosphere in Berlin despite the result?
Kießling: It was really special. Looking back it was my only ever final and perhaps the most important game of my career. The whole of Germany watches cup finals. You are in the limelight. Half of the stadium was in red and it was really impressive. It’s something I’ll never forget.
DFB.de: Are there any memories from the final that are simply unforgettable?
Kießling: Not too many because we lost. We still celebrated as much as Werder afterwards though.
DFB.de: What was your biggest DFB-Pokal game? The 4-2 quarterfinal win over Bayern in 2009, where you scored the fourth?
Kießling: That was definitely one of our biggest ones. We led 3-0 and thought that we’d won the game. Then they scored two set-piece goals inside a couple of minutes and made it tight again.
DFB.de: Let’s talk about this season’s DFB-Pokal. Bayer are in the quarterfinals and are favourites to beat Union Berlin, having defeated them twice in the league this term. Why is not a given that B04 will progress?
Kießling: Quite simply because it’s a Pokal game and everything is possible. It was a really tough game in Berlin against them last time out. They played well and showed how difficult a side they are to face. We managed to turn the game around somewhat fortuitously. We did everything right in the home game this season, but it’s a completely different scenario now. We saw how difficult it was against VfB Stuttgart in the last round. We deserved to win but they played really well though.
DFB.de: How dangerous are Union?
Kießling: They play a simple brand of football. They look to get the ball in behind the defence as quickly as possible. Sebastian Andersson is a player I admire – I like the way he holds up the ball and distributes it. They are strong defensively and it’s really tough to play against them.
DFB.de: How big of a miss will Kevin Volland be for Leverkusen?
Kießling: A huge one. Kevin has become a key player for us over the last few years. He’s a really important player for us and is extremely flexible up front. He gives his all and scores plenty of goals. It’ll be a challenge for us trying to replace him. Nevertheless, we have a strong squad with a number of good options.
DFB.de: A win would see Leverkusen reach the semi-finals. How big a chance would the club then have of winning the title?
Kießling: I’m not thinking about the final yet. We had a quarterfinal against second-tier side Kaiserslautern here a few years ago and lost. We just have to beat Union first and then we’ll have a new challenge ahead of us. We need to take each game as it comes. You need to concentrate on your next task, not your future ones.
DFB.de: How desperate is the club for the first title since 1993?
Kießling: We’d love to win a title. Everybody at the club is in agreement with that. Titles have never been won by just talking though.