One of German football's greatest longings remains unfulfilled. The Hertha BSC professionals still have to wait for their first participation in a DFB Cup final in their own stadium. Only the club's amateurs have ever reached the final in 1993 – and the chances for the club's first team this time were basically as magnificent as they were rare. Only three Bundesliga teams are still in the cup, Bayern, Dortmund and Leipzig have long been out – and the draw gave Hertha BSC a quarter-final home game on Wednesday evening against the worst second division team in the competition, 1. FC Kaiserslautern.
But the dream ended with the final whistle from referee Matthias Jöllenbeck. Kaiserslautern won 3-1 (2-0) and is in the top four for the first time since 2014. Jan Elvedi (5th minute), Richmond Tachie (38th) and Filip Kaloc (69th) scored the goals for the Palatinate team. The 1:3 by Fabian Reese (90th + 1) came too late.
However, Hertha BSC is still in an emotional state of emergency after the death of President Kay Bernstein just over two weeks ago. Before the cup game, Bernstein's widow sent moving words to the members in the club's newsletter. She thanked the Hertha supporters for their sympathy, the posters and the gestures. She wanted a win for the cup game and wanted to “get a little closer to Kay and our dream of the cup!” She herself watched the game in the stadium, a black and white picture by Kay Bernstein was shown on the screens before the game.
With these words in the minds of many supporters and certainly many players and the knowledge of the great historic opportunity, the Hertha team went into this game. The Olympic Stadium, although at this time of year it was more of an icebox than a sports facility, was sold out, 74,245 spectators, there were choreographies on both sides, and a few smoke pots had also survived the journey from the Palatinate to Berlin unscathed. There was a bombastic atmosphere – and then Kaiserslautern shocked the blue and white part of the stadium shortly after kick-off.
Dardai surprises with the formation of goalkeeper Marius Gersbeck
After a free-kick cross was blocked, Tymoteusz Puchacz resisted the temptation to look for the direct route to the goal and instead played Jan Elvedi (twin brother of Nico, known from Gladbach). He shot past Marius Gersbeck into the goal, and the fans of 1. FC Kaiserslautern set off a few more unauthorized fireworks. The smell of black powder filled the cold Berlin air.
But wait – Marius Gersbeck? As a matter of fact. To the surprise of many, Hertha coach Pal Dardai swapped goalkeepers. Gersbeck had not played so far this season because he had an altercation during the summer training camp, as a result of which he was charged with grievous bodily harm. The proceedings were stopped after Gersbeck made a payment, and Gersbeck was suspended for weeks. How Tjark Ernst, Hertha's number one until recently, has now taken up castling is an interesting question. Before the game he had that Kicker still expectedly reported that a cup quarter-final against Kaiserslautern would be the biggest game of his career. Dardai said before the game that it had been planned that Gersbeck would be the goalkeeper in the cup.
Hertha's reaction to the deficit was just as surprising as the goalkeeper swap: there was almost none. Instead of taking advantage of the volume in the stadium, the team acted timidly. In the 16th minute, Haris Tabakovic missed a shot, in the 32nd minute, Derry Scherhant pushed a header too weakly towards the goal, shortly afterwards he shot sharper and forced Lautern's goalkeeper Julian Krahl to at least dive towards the ball.
And shortly afterwards it was already 0:2. After Berlin lost the ball in the center, FCK playmaker Marlon Ritter quickly switched gears, found Richmond Tachie, who shot past Gersbeck's fingertips into the far corner and then showed a flick-flack of high gymnastic quality. When Kaiserslautern's Elvedi shortly afterwards prevented Florian Niederlechner from scoring freely with a risky tackle, the Swiss celebrated almost as if he had scored his opening goal.
After all: Hertha had found the way forward, and after the break it was the Hertha fans who cheered almost as if they had scored a goal when the scoreboard announced that Fabian Reese had come on. Reese is Hertha's best kicker, he had almost single-handedly won the cup game against HSV in the previous round – but was knocked out by the coronavirus for six weeks shortly afterwards.
In his first action, Reese sprinted directly past all the Reds and passed sharply inside. That didn't help, but it did create a sense of optimism on the Berlin side. It lasted until the 69th minute, when Hertha's Andreas Bouchalakis played the ball deep in his own half to Lautern's winter signing Filip Kaloc, who deliberately shot into the right corner. That meant the game was decided; Reese's 1:3 in stoppage time came too late.