PREVIEW: MSV DUISBURG - FC SCHALKE 04
David Yelldell and Duisburg will take the field for one last time this season on Saturday, as they try to make history in the German Cup final against Bundesliga team FC Schalke 04.
The season has turned out to be somewhat of a bittersweet fairy tale for both Duisburg and Schalke, as both have disappointed in their respective league campaigns but far exceeded expectations otherwise.
For Schalke, a 14th-place finish in Bundesliga play fell far short of the lofty goals they had set out heading into the season, and ultimately led to the costly removal of coach/tyrant Felix Magath from his post earlier in the spring.
While reaching the final of the German Cup may not be too out of the ordinary for the four-time winners and seven-time runners up, their remarkable run to the semifinals of the Champions League will surely go down in club history as one of their most memorable achievements.
Similarly, Duisburg had hoped to gain promotion back to Germany's top flight by season's end, however their strong start to the season was not matched after the turn of the new year, with a final eighth-place league standing leaving them scratching their heads wondering what went wrong.
Their berth in Saturday's final is, however, one of their greatest achievements of recent memory, and they will hope that they can put in one final grand performance to pull off what would be a wholly shocking victory.
They have reached this stage of the competition on two other occasions, losing in 1975 to Eintracht Frankfurt and again coming out on the wrong end in the 1998 final against FC Bayern, however Milan Sasic's squad will do everything within their power to make life difficult for their opponents.
Despite a spate of injuries which has the team severely depleted, particularly up front, they can take heart in the fact that Schalke have been dismal in the lead-up to the final.
The Königsblauen have lost their last six games, and have failed to win since beating Italian team Inter Milan in mid-April in the Champions League quarterfinal. In the seven games since knocking off the Italians, they have been outscored by a combined 17-5 margin, which will surely be a serious dent in their confidence despite having the clear advantage of facing a lower league opponent.
The Zebras have fared better in recent weeks; a season-ending 3-1 loss to promotion contenders Bochum was largely meaningless, with two strong wins immediately preceding possibly offering a better glimpse of what the team has to offer.
Sasic will have to contend with a fleet of players on the sidelines for various reasons. Midfielder Benjamin Kern is the latest Zebra to be ruled out, as he suffered ligament damage in his ankle in Sunday's season finale.
The team will also be without defender Julian Koch, forward Srdjan Baljak and midfielder Jürgen Säumel, all of whom are out with long-term injuries, as well as Brazilian defender Bruno Soares who is forced to miss the game on a red card suspension.
Forward Stefan Maierhofer has begun light training again after breaking his foot in early-April, but is still a major doubt for the game, as is midfielder Ivica Grlic due to a severe contusion.
Schalke are also not without injury problems, as Ghanian midfielder Anthony Annan was left out of the traveling squad with tendon problems, and a number of players were also left behind for various reasons.
Midfielders Ciprian Deac, Vasileios Pliatsikas and Ali Karimi join defender Nicolas Plestan on the injury list, with long-term absences Tim Hoogland, Christian Pander, Christoph Moritz and Levan Kenia all set to watch from afar as well.