Rae's Say: German Cup and the 'six plus five' formula
I must start this week by confessing to being a little less than impartial as regards the German Cup. The DFB-Pokal used to represent my little bit of midweek radio heaven as a youngster.
Luckily, living in Aberdeen, right on the North Sea, we could guarantee perfect wireless reception from Hamburg and Bremen. Many an evening in the late Seventies and early Eighties was spent transfixed by the authoritative tones of Jochen Hageleit and Werner Hansch describing goals and controversial incidents from Solingen to Sindelfingen.
Even to this day, my preference is to listen to, rather than watch, the ebb and flow of German Cup ties.
However, I certainly wasn't complaining when the quarter-final between VfB Stuttgart and Hertha Berlin ended up being my television commentary match for ESPN this week.
In driving, unrelenting rain, on a slippery surface at the Gottlieb-Daimler-Stadion, the two sides confirmed to me at least, that the German Cup is up there with the FA Cup, as a national knockout competition worth paying attention to.
In fact, dare I say, the DFB-Pokal offers something the FA Cup doesn't. By that I mean full-strength sides.
Look at Stuttgart the other night. This is a team fighting passionately to win the Bundesliga for the first time since 1992. Yet did it even enter the head of coach Armin Veh, that it might be sensible to keep a few key players in reserve for this weekend's trip to Leverkusen? Not in the slightest.
There was no replacing first-choice keeper Timo Hildebrand, no resting of key players Pavel Pardo and Mario Gomez. Captain Fernando Meira, even though not quite at top fitness, was risked in the second half.
Similarly Hertha, involved in an almighty scrap to qualify for the UEFA Cup, might have been expected to hold some of their most important team members back for the next Bundesliga match, at home to Bayern Munich.
That Falko Götz named Arne Friedrich, Joe Simunic, Pal Dardai and Marko Pantelic from the start, is proof that the FA Cup tendency of sending out players halfway between a first team and a reserve side, remains anathema in Germany. Long may that view prevail.
Stuttgart, by the way, were deserving of their 2-0 triumph against a Hertha team whose lack of ambition on the night, proved to be their undoing. Brazilian striker Cacau opened the scoring seven minutes from half-time after a delicious cross from Swiss international left-back Ludovic Magnin. Thomas Hitzlsperger made certain of victory with a thumping left-foot drive that gave Christian Fiedler no chance, 13 minutes from the end.
For me, Stuttgart are favourites to lift the 'Pott' on 26 May, although much will depend on Sunday's draw. Nürnberg, who beat Hannover on penalties are certainly capable of giving Veh's team something to think about. Fellow Bundesliga teams Wolfsburg and Eintracht Frankfurt are not there to make up the numbers either.
I'm very much looking forward to the semi-finals on 17 and 18 April, regardless of whether it's listening on the radio, or commentating on television!
Speaking purely as a Scot, it was encouraging to see Rangers field nine of my compatriots from the outset, in last week's 4-0 victory against Hapoel Tel-Aviv, to reach the last sixteen of the UEFA Cup 5-2 on aggregate.
If Franz Beckenbauer and FIFA president Sepp Blatter had their way, this sort of thing would be the norm.
Many people in the higher echelons of world football are currently advocating the 'six plus five' formula.
In other words, a minimum of six players from the country whose league the team belongs to, in any starting eleven.
The biggest obstacle is likely to come from Brussels. Getting anything that might impede workers' rights on a European Union wide basis past the EU Commissioners won't be easy to achieve.
Celtic, Rangers and Aberdeen have all won European trophies, with teams made up exclusively of Scots.
It would be naïve to think we can return to those days. However, club teams should reflect the country they hail from, far more than they currently do.
The first knockout round second legs in the UEFA Champions League take centre stage on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week.
As usual, we'll have comprehensive coverage on ESPN. For those of you in the United States, Liverpool's quest to eliminate last season's winners Barcelona will be live from Anfield on ESPN2. We get started at 2.30pm Eastern Time on Tuesday.
The following day at the same time, the return leg of the Manchester United v Lille tie is live, also on ESPN2.
As always, keep logging on to ESPNsoccernet.com for a complete look at which matches are on, and when, in your part of the world.