FIRST TEAM
12/02/2023

20 years ago: when the village team shocked the Werkself

20 years ago today, on 2 December 2003, TSG 1899 Hoffenheim hit the headlines nationwide for the first time. A stunning 3-2 win over Bayer Leverkusen in the last 16 of the DFB-Pokal in the Dietmar Hopp Stadium put the then Regionalliga club on the German football map and marked the first chapter in modern TSG history. We look back to an historic evening.

Prologue

Yes, Michael Ballack had left Bayer Leverkusen to join Bayern Munich. But seven players of the 11 who contested the Champions League final against Real Madrid at Hampden Park in Glasgow just a year-and-a-half ago were in the starting line-up on this Tuesday evening in Hoffenheim. Perhaps the most famous of them was Lucimar da Silva Ferreira, known as Lúcio, who was part of the Brazil team that won the 2002 World Cup. Then there was Germany internationals Bernd Schneider and Oliver Neuville, not to mention goalkeeper Hans Jörg Butt, Marko Babić, Diego Placente and Bulgarian striker Dimitar Berbatov. Illustrious names in world football. The Leverkusen captain was Jens Nowotny, who missed out on the Champions League final due to injury. 

On their road to Glasgow, the Werkself knocked out several top European clubs and played in storied arenas such as the Camp Nou (Barcelona), Highbury (Arsenal), Anfield (Liverpool) and Old Trafford (Manchester United). Now the star-studded Leverkusen ensemble headed up Hoffenheim's Silbergasse and warmed up in a small stadium with temporary steel stands. The following weekend, the team placed third in the Bundesliga had a derby against 1. FC Köln to look forward to. The trip to the Kraichgau was only supposed to be a small side mission to complete.

Just two years earlier, TSG had been promoted to the Regionalliga for the first time with ex-Bayern player Hansi Flick in the dugout, with former Waldhof player Alfred Schön as his assistant. In what was their third season in Germany's third tier, the team from the Kraichgau were sitting in fifth place. As for the DFB-Pokal, it was their second appearance after 2002/03, when they were knocked out in the second round by 1.FC Köln.

Things went better at the second attempt: Hoffenheim defeated second-tier club Eintracht Trier 4-3 after extra time in the first round of the competition in 2003/04. Denis Bindnagel scored an equaliser four minutes before the end, with Sascha Ropic netting in extra time to book TSG's place in the next second round. Hoffenheim were pitted against Karlsruher SC, also in the Bundesliga 2, and ran out 4-0 winners at the Dietmar Hopp Stadium. Bindnagel had given TSG a 1-0 lead in the first half, with Christian Möckel, Kai Herdling and Sachar Theres all scoring in the final quarter of an hour. Leverkusen couldn't afford to be complacent.

Like in the theatre, with suits and ties

Hoffenheim had, just like before the matches against Trier and Karlsruhe, organised a short training camp prior to the big game. In addition, injured captain Thorsten Thee and striker Christian Möckel had made recoveries from a back and a thigh injury respectively and were available for selection. Referee Dr. Felix Brych blew the starting whistle at 19:00. A crowd of 6,500 spectators, twice the population of Hoffenheim, turned up. Playing all in red, TSG had left their respect for the Bundesliga team in the dressing room and went full throttle right from the first kick of the ball. Within the first few minutes, Hanno Balitsch tripped up TSG's Heiko Throm in the area. The referee pointed straight to the spot. Stephan Sieger stepped up to slot the penalty past Butt, who was renowned for his high save rate (7). Sieger, who celebrated his 24th birthday the following day, struck the far post shortly afterwards.

The goal to make it 2-0 after just under half an hour was one which can be placed in the "wondergoal" category. Thomas Ollhoff sent Heiko Throm into space. The TSG striker skipped past Placente, then had the audacity to lob the ball over the head of Butt, who was standing five metres from his line.

Things weren't looking good for Leverkusen coach Klaus Augenthaler at half-time. Between 1985 and 1990, he had been a teammate of Hansi Flick FC Bayern Munich on 78 occasions and celebrated four Bundesliga title wins with him. Now he had to watch his former teammate celebrate. In the post-match interview, Augenthaler grumbled: "I had the feeling we were in the theatre - in suits and ties." His assistant coach Ulf Kirsten, who had just ended his goal-laden playing career at Bayer, also by now knew all too well who the "Thoronas or something" were. That's how he had labelled cousins Heiko and Marcel Throm in the run-up to the match. Heiko Throm, striker, was involved in both goals, Marcel Throm, left-back, had Germany World Cup finalist Daniel Bierofka firmly under control.

It's not the size of the dog that decides the fight...

TSG goalkeeper Thomas Hillenbrand - who would later describe his performance to a reporter from kicker as "superhuman" - made one brilliant save to deny Schneider in the 40th minute, but otherwise had little to do in the first half. In the second, however, he was exposed to the wrath of the favourites. In the 54th minute, Lúcio fired the ball into the top corner from 13 metres out, and shortly afterwards, Berbatov headed a Neuville free-kick into the net to make it 2-2 (67). After this setback, there were fears that the Regionalliga team would collapse psychologically. Hillenbrand saved a Bierofka shot from distance, Ollhoff was struck by cramp and TSG seemed to be heading for the exit door.

Then came the 77th minute. 

Sachar Theres, who had just come on as a substitute, was fouled in his own half and opted to take a quick free-kick. He lofted the ball over the unsuspecting Bayer backline and sent Herdling, another substitute, clean through. The 19-year-old bared down on goal, but felt Nowotny's breath on his back, tripped, collided with the keeper, flailed his arms up in the air, claimed for a penalty. And in the meantime, the ball trickled over the goalline. 3-2, unbelievable. Stadium announcer Horst Heinlein grabbed the microphone and called the goal for Herdling.

However, Flick and the 6,500 fans in attendance had to survive a few scares before the sensational upset was finally secured. Such as when Berbatov's shot from close range was saved by Hillenbrand. Or when Schneider's shot on the turn in the five-yard box was cleared on the line by Theres and Hillenbrand in stoppage time. Then it was finally over. "I don't think the clubhouse in Hoffenheim will be standing for much longer today," an ecstatic Stephan Sieger announced to ZDF reporter Michael Palme, while Marcel Throm was carried off the pitch on his shoulders by the cheering crowd, who had stormed onto the pitch in celebration.

A few minutes later, Sieger gave a rendition of Karel Gott's song "Butterfly" in the dressing room. It got loud, corks popped. The dehydrated Ollhoff was initially absent from the celebrations: "I was drawn for a doping test and couldn't drink water for two-and-a-half hours after those 90 minutes. I heard the boys singing, but I wasn't allowed to leave the room."

…but rather the size of the fight in the dog

The flipchart on which Flick had scribbled the tactical alignment can be seen on the moving images of the sports programme at the time. Above the nicknames with countless arrows - "Sigges" for winner, "Tafty" (Thee), "Hille" (Hillenbrand) or "Mogli" (Möckel) - and emblazoned in large letters was a "Czech proverb", in fact attributed to the writer Mark Twain, which reads as follows: "It is not the size of the dog that decides the fight, but rather the size of the fight in the dog."

Incidentally, 40 years prior to this memorable evening, TSG received their first ever mention in kicker magazine. In the 12 August 1963 issue, the "Dribblings" section on page 24 read: "We would like to thank TSG Ulm 46, Karlsruher FV from the USA, [...] the youth of TSG Hoffenheim [...] for card greetings." In the decades that followed, Hoffenheim were only mentioned in the specialist football magazine in results lines and tables. In December 2003, however, longer articles started to appear about the village club, which first put itself on the German football map thanks to this cup upset - and has remained there ever since.

TSG 1899 Hoffenheim 3-2 (2-0) Bayer 04 Leverkusen
Hoffenheim:
Hillenbrand – Thee, Daub, Bindnagel, M. Throm – Böttjer, Sieger, Müller (74, Theres) – Ollhoff – Möckel, H. Throm (51, Herdling). – Coach: Flick.
Leverkusen: Butt – Lúcio, Nowotny, Juan – Bierofka, Babic (46, Neuville), Schneider, Balitsch, Placente – Berbatov, França. - Coach: Augenthaler.
Goals: 1-0 Sieger (7, penalty), 2-0 H. Throm (30), 2-1 Lúcio (54), 2-2 Berbatov (67), 3-2 Herdling (77). Attendance: 6,500 Referee: Dr. Felix Brych (Munich). Bookings: Yellow card for Thee/França.
Sinsheim, Dietmar Hopp Stadium, 2 December 2003

Here are the cup heroes from 2003/04 (in alphabetical order):

Denis Bindnagel ( at TSG from 2001 to 2008), Matthias Born (2000-05), Timo Böttjer (2002-06), Christian Daub (2001-07), Jochen Endress (2003-06), Andreas Gaber (1995-2004), Sebastian Haag (2003-04), Kai Herdling (2002-08, 2009-12, 2012-16), Thomas Hillenbrand (2003-07), Sebastian Hofmann (2002-06), Marcus Klandt (2002-04), Kevin Knödler (1999-2005), Martin Lanig (2003-06), Sascha Maier (2003-04), Christian Möckel (2003-04), Thorsten Müller (2001-05), Thomas Ollhoff (2002-06), Sascha Ropic (2003-04), Stephan Sieger (2001-04), Thorsten Thee (1999-2004), Sachar Theres (2003-04), Heiko Throm (2001-05), Marcel Throm (2000-08).

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