Wednesday, 29 January 2020

More League Cup Stories: Remembering Germany's Ligapokal

Having recently wrote about the demise of the Coupe de Ligue in France I thought it was worth looking at another League Cup competition that for a short while graced one of Europe's great footballing countries - the Ligapokal.

Introduced in 1997 to replace Germany's DFL-Supercup, the DFL-Ligapokal unlike league cup competitions elsewhere was played as pre-season tournament involving just six teams. The previous season's top five Bundesliga sides were joined by that season's DFB-Pokal (cup) winners with an extra place given to the sixth placed league side if the DFB-Pokal winners had finished in the top five. The competition was scrapped in 2009 after a one year hiatus and for the final season in 2007, the fifth placed Bundesliga side were replaced by the winners of the 2. Bundesliga.

For the first edition in 1997, four teams competed in a preliminary round before the two winners were joined by the league champions and the cup winners, this became the usual format for the competition. The very first match of the inaugural tournament saw Karlsruher SC defeat Bayer Leverkusen on penalties after a 2-2 draw in 90 minutes. Two days later Borussia Dortmund would join Karlsruher SC in the semi finals after defeating VfL Bochum 1-0. The semi finals saw DFB-Pokal holders VfB Stuttgart and reigning Bundesliga champions FC Bayern München both enter the competition. Stuttgart defeated Karlsruher 3-0 before losing the final 2-0 to FC Bayern in front of just over 15000 spectators at the Ulrich-Haberland-Stadion in Leverkusen after Bayern had defeated Borussia Dortmund 2-0 in their semi final. 

FC Bayern would, in fact, win the first four editions of the tournament defeating Stuttgart again in the following year's final before victories over Werder Bremen and Hertha BSC in the finals of the third and fourth instalments of the competition. Hertha BSC who lost the 2000 final 5-1 to FC Bayern would themselves win the following two finals defeating FC Schalke 04 4-1 on both occasions. There would be two further final victories for FC Bayern in the last five seasons of the tournament to take their tally to six - a tournament record ahead Hertha BSC and their two titles. Hamburger SV, Schalke, and Weder Bremen would also win the tournament.

When a Miroslav Klose goal saw FC Bayern beat Schalke 1-0 in the 2007 final, at what is now the Red Bull Arena in Leipzig, it signalled the end of the competition for good. No one would know this at the time, however. Due to expected fixture congestion after Euro 2008, the following year's edition was to be cancelled with initially the tournament supposed to return in 2009, something that ultimately never happened. After the 2008 cancellation came plans to restructure the competition as a much larger tournament more similar to the English League Cup or the Coupe de la Ligue in France. A survey at the time from Kicker magazine found that 18 of the 36 Bundesliga and 2.Bundesliga clubs were in favour of an expanded tournament. The exact shape of this restructured competition was, however, unclear and the 2009 edition ended up being cancelled with discussions ongoing. In the end, however, nothing ever materialised and the competition never returned. 

With the Ligapokal no longer taking place, it's predecessor the DFL-Supercup was revived. The competition saw the Bundesliga champions face off against the DFB-Pokal winners in a one-off match just before the season started. Although in the absence of the Ligapokal in 2008 and 2009 the German football league (DFL) refused to sanction requests for a Supercup match to take place unofficial games were agreed and played between the relevant clubs. Once the Ligapokal had finally been scrapped for good, however, the DFL agreed to officially revive the event for the summer of 2010 and it has continued ever since.

Sitting alongside the DFL-Supercup since its reintroduction in 2010 has been an unofficial competition known as the Telekom Cup. Similar to the now defunct Ligapokal, the four team tournament gets its name due to a sponsorship deal with Deutsche Telekom. Teams are invited to take part based on league positions from the previous season and having originally consisted of matches that lasted for only 60 minutes it now consists of 45 minute games with no half-times all of which take place across one single day.

The DFL-Supercup continues as a season opener each year and as it stands there a no plans to revive the Ligapokal. Germany's pre-season league cup tournament is seemingly consigned to the history books for good.

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