Leipzig, Frankfurt eye German Cup crown

Final clash between emerging powerhouses could hinge on shootout between Nkunku, Kolo Muani

AFP June 02, 2023


Saturday's German Cup final is not only a showdown of two of the country's emerging football powerhouses but a battle between France strikers Christopher Nkunku and Randal Kolo Muani.

Holders RB Leipzig and five-time winners Eintracht Frankfurt have emerged from the shadows of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund to become two of Germany's most successful sides in recent seasons.

Saturday will be Leipzig's fourth German Cup final in five seasons. Win and they will be the first team not named Bayern Munich to defend the trophy since Schalke in 2001 and 2002.

Frankfurt, who were Europa League holders until Sevilla's win over Roma on Wednesday, most recently won the domestic trophy in 2018.

An Eagles' victory will underline their status as one of Germany's big guns in coac Oliver Glasner's final match with the side.

Bubbling under the surface is a battle between two of the best attacking players in German football.

Nkunku and Kolo Muani have had stellar seasons, particularly in the Cup, where each averages a goal or more a game this season.

Their form has been so strong that both have been linked with summer moves away from their clubs, if not the Bundesliga all together.

Media reports suggest Nkunku's move abroad, most likely to Premier League side Chelsea, is already a done deal, despite a contract that runs until 2026.

The 25-year-old was the Bundesliga's top scorer with 16 this season, despite a knee injury which saw him miss France's World Cup campaign and a slab of club matches at the start of this year.

The France striker's return helped the German Cup holders end the league season with a flurry to climb to third, ensuring Leipzig would again play Champions League football next season.

Like France fans after the World Cup, Leipzig supporters were left to wonder what might have been had their talisman not gone down with injury, given the club finished just five points behind winners Bayern in the league.

Nkunku on Wednesday celebrated a return to the France setup, as part of Les Bleus 25-man squad for June's European Championship qualifiers.

Didier Deschamps also named Kolo Muani, who on Wednesday said the France coach should "not miss" Saturday's German Cup showdown.

"I think it will be a very, very good final".

While Nkunku, who won the Bundesliga Player of the Year in 2021-22, was a familiar commodity before the season, few in Germany, outside the Frankfurt scouting department, knew much about Kolo Muani.

Arriving on a free from 2022 French Cup winners Nantes, Kolo Muani scored 23 and assisted 17 in 45 matches in all competitions for the Eagles this season.

The striker put the disappointment of having his shot saved in injury time of the World Cup final which Argentina would ultimately win on penalties.

He has been crucial in Frankfurt's Cup run, scoring six times and assisting on three goals in just five games.

Kolo Muani's form has been so impressive that he has been strongly linked with a move after just one season, with Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United among the suitors.

The 24-year-old dismissed the speculation ahead of the big game.

"For now, we have to play the final and we are incredibly focused on that as a team. Accordingly, there's nothing else going on for me at the moment," Kolo Muani told German media on Wednesday.

"I still have a long contract in Frankfurt and therefore I could become the best goal scorer in an Eintracht Frankfurt jersey," the striker added.

With 212 goals in 523 matches, attacking midfielder Bernd Hoelzenbein has held the record since retiring in 1983.


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