Babelsberg went into this game with the history books stacked up against them, having failed to beat Saarbrücken in their six previous encounters. The fact that Saarbrücken also once essentially had their own national team (representing the French occupied zone of Saarland in the 1954 World Cup qualifiers) may also have intimidated the more historically-minded 03er. But Karl-Liebknecht-Stadion at 13:50 on Saturday afternoon was an agreeable mix of brilliant sunshine, foaming 1-litre beers and loud punk rock, and anything seemed possible. Saarbrücken’s noisy entourage, armed with colourful flags and dodgy puns (‘Saarcasm Fan Club’, I’m looking at you here), played their part too, and even autumn had read the script, with picturesque gusts of amber tickertape periodically tumbling goal-wards from the trees behind the away terrace.
The game started just as brightly, with Babelsberg batting the ball about in a brisk and surprisingly attractive passing game that belied their lowly league status. With the ball on the floor, they looked the more confident side and dominated the first few minutes of the proceedings, with the lively Touré in particular causing problems for the guests. This brief Babelsbergian Belle Époque climaxed in the 8th minute, when a long pass from right midfield carved the guests’ defence in two and the ball landed at Christian Essig’s feet. Just a few yards out and with only the keeper to beat, he ballooned the ball spectacularly over the bar.
Thereafter, perhaps sensing that it might be their day after all, Saarbrücken began to play with a greater sense of purpose. Granted, it wasn’t a particularly attractive sense of purpose, but the long balls thumped deep into the Babelsberg half unsettled the nervy 03 defence and the hosts’ confidence evaporated fast. The Saarländer began to gain the upper hand and might have taken the lead in the eighteenth minute, when with everybody expecting a cross, Sven Sökler drilled an audacious direct free kick past the wall to Frederic Löhe’s left. Last week’s match-winner and with two clean sheets in a row, the in-form Babelsberg keeper made a fine low catch to keep the scores level, making it look much easier than it was along the way.
Unfortunately for Babelsberg, Löhe’s team-mates lacked his cool-headedness. With the hosts opting for the long hoofs when shorter passes would have been more effective, the game deteriorated into what the realistic spectator might have been expecting all along – a scrappy 3rd division match. As the first half drew to a close, the gathering sunlit clouds above Babelsberg’s UNESCO skyline resembled something out a Flemish landscape painting, increasingly vying for attention with the earthly recreational activities down below. In fact, with both keepers solid, the strikers ineffectual and the game plodding towards a seemingly inevitable 0-0 draw, the heavens were arguably becoming the more interesting spectacle.
Both sides brought their lack of ideas out of the dressing room with them for the second half. Philip Kreuels did offer a brief respite in the 48th minute, dinking his way deftly past two defenders onto the edge of the six-yard box and finding himself one-on-one with Müller. His finish was superbly blocked ice-hockey style by the Saarbrücken keeper, who stayed on his feet long enough to let the ball ricochet off his left arm and out for a corner. But Babelsberg paid for their absence of clinical finishing in the 64th minute, when a fine long pass through the hosts’ defence found Sökler on the left-wing. His low cross was headed home emphatically at close range by Ziemer, triggering euphoric, if somewhat surprised, celebrations among the travelling support at the other end.
This setback snapped Babelsberg into life. Almost from the restart, Evljuskin’s powerful curling shot from 18 yards forced another fine save from Müller. A hectic and messy final phase ensued, with a string of 03 corners and chaotic goalmouth scrambles enlivening (if not necessarily beautifying) proceedings. Perhaps the referee Dr. Manuel Kunzmann was thinking of the nervous health of the 2262 spectators when, with everybody looking forward to at least five minutes of heart-pounding, gut-wrenching stoppages from the injury-laden second half, he inexplicably decided to prescribe zero extra time.
Either way, he kindly spared everybody the potential adverse effects, leaving 03’s coach Christian Benbennek to rue his charges’ lack of focus. “You can’t say that we didn’t want anything, that we didn’t try to play,” he concluded afterwards. “But I had the feeling that it wasn’t clear what we wanted.” The answer for Babelsberg may lie in the first few minutes of this match, when it fleetingly seemed as if they might just have known the answer.