The 3. Liga title race is heating up heading into the final four matches. What looked a certain and uncatchable top three has been completely flipped with the recent resurgence of 1860 München. Hansa Rostock, FC Ingolstadt and Dynamo Dresden will have much more to say though as we head into the final run in. 1860 are putting up a fight and have now finally broken the trio.
Not so long ago on Matchday 25, Die Löwen were seventh place and 12 points from the top of the league. Fast forward to present day, after Matchday 34, just four points separate Hansa in first and 1860 now up to third in the table ahead of Dresden.
A quick look at other three promotion chasing contenders: Hansa Rostock have flirted with promotion hopes in the past few years but ultimately had to settle for two sixth place finishes after falling short during at the tail end of each season. Now we are seeing Jens Härtel’s side gaining consistency and it looks increasingly likely that they will be in one of the automatically promoted sides. A late winner at the weekend over manager-less SV Meppen cementing that claim.
Ingolstadt will still have last seasons last minute playoff winner for 1. FC Nürnberg rooted in the back of their minds. One win in five for Die Schanzer, a side also requiring a late winner last time out as mid table Zwickau twice took the lead at Audi SportPark. Ingolstadt were extremely close to promotion last time out and will hope to secure it automatically this season. Die Schanzer fans will be wishing to avoid another relegation play off battle.
Dynamo Dresden have just ended their lockdown scenario after the club was brought down with yet another Covid outbreak. Dresden were the first team in Germany to be hit hard last year when they were forced to play their remaining nine 2. Bundesliga matches within 30 days, ultimately the reason for their relegation to the third tier. Following a demoralising 3-0 defeat to Hallescher FC on their return to normal business on Saturday, head coach Markus Kauczinski was relieved of his duties. Manager-less and now out of the promotion places. The club on the east side German will no doubt be experiencing more pressure from the four to secure that quick return to 2. Bundesliga.
Now setting all focus back on 1860 München. A club that just four years ago were at one of their lowest points of existence. Failing to secure a 3. Liga licence following relegation from the 2. Bundesliga after their owner Hasan Ismaik refused to pay the fees. 1860 were confined to be a Regionalliga outfit for the 2017/18 season, nine points clear at the top and a quick promotion to 3. Liga football.
Back to the present day and this season, we are watching the clubs third attempt at a promotion push, now under the control of former 1. FC Nürnberg head coach Michael Köllner. A man who not so long ago won promotion to the Bundesliga with Der Club.
His squad notoriously led by the 3. Liga’s answer to Robert Lewandowski, former Augsburg striker Sasha Mölders with 21 goals in 33 appearances for Sechzig this season. Even at the age of 36, the German doesn’t look like he will be stopping any time soon. 22 year old midfielder Dennis Dressel has been another stand out in a promising season for the young German. Experiencing his second full season in professional football and pivotal to 1860’s success in the midfield this year. Köllner has a squad worthy of promotion, getting it all over the line is the tricky part and he has four games to achieve it.
Speaking with 1860 München fan and creator of the Twitter account 1860 München in EN (@sechzig_en), George Balakrishna. The former München resident tells us about the importance of getting this historic and traditional club back to the big time.
It’s been almost 20 years since we last witnessed 1860 colours in the Bundesliga, firstly, how much would it mean for the fans that the correct progressions are being made to enable a return to where they think the club deserves to be?
“1860 were chosen as a founding member of the Bundesliga (ahead of Bayern) and there’s definitely a sense with our history, fan base and tradition that it’s where we deserve to be. Having said that, 1860 fans are not obsessed with winning and a return to the Bundesliga would almost certainly mean having to leave behind the beloved Grünwalder Stadion again, unless some serious work is done to the stadium. Promotion to the second division would be a huge step in the right direction, especially with the club going through the turmoil it has in recent years.”
The Grünwalder Stadion the home of 1860 München. The club shared with arch rivals Bayern München at their Allianz arena for some time before securing their return to their rightful home. As mentioned, work needs to be made on their beloved stadium should they secure promotion though. The 15,000 capacity stadium is not up to 2. Liga stadium requirements.
When the 3. Liga License was lost and relegation to Regionalliga was confirmed in 2017, how vital was it that the club itself try to correct its misfortunes and avoid what were dark times for the club?
“I think the saving grace was the loyalty of the fans. If you look at the solitary season spent in the Regionalliga, 1860 fans would travel in their thousands away to teams like VfR Garching and SV Schalding-Heinig and almost every home game remained a sell out. We stormed the league that season and it was probably quite enjoyable despite the circumstances which landed us there! But the fans were under no illusion that they didn’t want something like that to be repeated again. We still have the same owner (who shall not be named), so the fear definitely hasn’t disappeared entirely.”
The 3. Liga year on year becomes increasingly difficult to get out of. Does it need to be now? Would 1860 struggle to return to the top if we don’t see a promotion in the near future?
“It’s a very unpredictable league and coming close one season definitely doesn’t guarantee you’ll be there the next session – just look at Unterhaching or Duisburg, who were the top two for parts of last season and now they are both either in the relegation spots or just above.
“The obvious reason why promotion ‘needs’ to happen now – if ever – is simple: Sascha Mölders. 36 years old and the leagues top goal scorer with 21. He recently signed a new contract until the end of next season, but you never know if age will all of a sudden catch up with him. On the other hand, we have a really talented crop of young players from the academy, a few of whom I’m certain will go on to play at a higher level – e.g Semi Belkahia, Dennis Dressel, Marco Hiller. So it’s definitely not to say if it doesn’t happen this season that it won’t for a long time, but you do feel everything is just coming together at the right time now.”
Four fixtures remain, How confident are the fans that the club can achieve promotion this year, given the circumstances? And is it disappointing that the fans would not be able to witness it?
“Until about two weeks ago, you’d have had a hard time finding even the most optimistic Sechziger who would have thought we could turn around a nine point deficit in such a small amount of time, but the teams above us have had a real wobble and now find ourselves just one point behind the promotion berth and two off 2nd, only four off 1st! We’re on a really good run of form at the moment and what’s even better is we’re playing really good football. But that can all change in a heartbeat in football, especially when the pressure is on. Personally, I see it all coming down to the last game of the season away at Ingolstadt, who are currently two points ahead of us, with a far inferior goal difference. The consensus is that if we can hang on until that game with less than a three point deficit, we back the boys to go get a win there and get over the line on goal difference (but hopefully it’s not as tight as that!)”
Four games lie between Die Löwen and one step closer to the Bundesliga. 1. FC Kaiserslautern, Wehen Wiesbaden, the “derby” against Bayern II and promotion rivals Ingolstadt. All eyes will be gearing towards that fixture at Audi SportPark come May 22. A huge game in the calendar and from a neutral perspective could be one of the most exciting encounters of the season. 1860 are unbeaten against these four sides this season, Köllner’s side could gain the upper hand heading into the run in.
Sechizig have witnessed troubled times in recent history but we could be seeing the start of a return of a one of the Bundesliga greats. A club littered with tradition, history and an incredible fan base are beginning to roar their back to the top.