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Bittersweet 16: the battle for German Cup quarterfinal berths

Rank outsiders dreaming of glory, mid-table sides eying a back door into European competition, and the favorites plotting their course to the final in Berlin: the German Cup round of 16 offers something for everyone.

Kaiserlautern's Olivier Occean (r) fight for the ball with Union Berlin's Damir Kreilach, during a 2. Bundesliga match on 23.11.2013. (Photo via Uwe Anspach/dpa)

Either Kaiserslautern or Union Berlin will represent the second division in the last eight

Lovers of the lower leagues need not despair as the German Cup heads into the winter break, at least one lower division side will mix it with the Bundesliga big boys in the quarterfinals.

Second-division high-flyers Kaiserslautern and Union Berlin, two teams harboring hopes of promotion to Germany's top flight, will square off in the capital on Tuesday. The remaining underdogs will have to prove their giant-killing credentials in order to progress to the last eight of the "DFB Pokal," as it's known in Germany.

The current leaders of the 2. Bundesliga, Cologne, might be able to upset the apple cart in Hamburg. HSV's fortunes have improved under new coach Bert van Maarwijk, but the northern club's sometimes shaky and inexperienced back line is liable to look with envy at Cologne's much more parsimonious defensive record in the second tier.

Hamburg will have to break down Peter Stöger's side without creative lynchpin Rafael van der Vaart, out injured for the rest of the month.

David against (sub-strength) Goliath

Ordinarily, pundits and punters would write off the chances of the only remaining third-tier team in the cup, Saarbrücken, without much thought. They are playing 2012 cup winners Borussia Dortmund, after all.

Borussia Dortmund's Marco Reus (L) celebrates after scoring a goal on penalty against Napoli during their Champions League group F soccer match in Dortmund November 26, 2013. REUTERS/Ina Fassbender (GERMANY - Tags: SPORT SOCCER)

Dortmund's injury list just won't stop swelling

But which Dortmund will they face?

Already decimated in defense, coach Jürgen Klopp now knows that German international Marco Reus will not be available for the Tuesday encounter. Sven Bender, Nuri Sahin and Robert Lewandowski are all doubtful, while Ilkay Gündogan, Mats Hummels, Neven Subotic and Marcel Schmelzer will not be in action.

"It's really hard to tell with all the players," Klopp said on Monday, explaining that he had promoted six reserve team players as a precaution.

"Now it's not even possible to consider resting a few of those players who are fit," Klopp lamented. "Anyone who thinks that we'll progress with any old 11 has miscalculated the situation."

No goalkeeper discussion?

Schalke and Hoffenheim offer arguably the highest-profile fixture of the round – and quite possibly the one most likely to yield goals.

Hoffenheim, fresh from their 4-4 rollercoaster with Bremen at the weekend, are the leakiest side in all the Bundesliga. Coach Markus Gisdol was grilled on the issue ahead of the cup tie, saying he planned to start second-choice goalie Jens Grahl - but not because of any lack of faith in Koen Casteels.

"Jens' work [in previous Cup games] should be rewarded," Gisdol said, before stressing that there was "no internal discussion and absolutely no drama" on the issue of their Belgian regular, recently sent to kickboxing classes in a bid to improve reflexes and fighting spirit.

An action scene from the Hoffenheim vs Schalke Bundesliga game, 28.09.2013. (Photo via Uwe Anspach/dpa)

Goals galore - again - when Schalke play Hoffenheim?

"Putting aside recent performances, Koen faced some difficult situations because the lads in front often left him in the lurch," Gisdol said.

This would ordinarily be music to Schalke fans' ears, but the Royal Blues have their own defensive and goalkeeping concerns. Sitting fifth, Schalke's defensive record is the worst by far of the top seven teams in the Bundesliga. And after their clear sheet against Stuttgart on Saturday, Jens Keller's consistently inconsistent troupe might be due a relapse. Schalke and Hoffenheim drew 3-3 when they met in the Bundesliga in September.

Bayern, Leverkusen hit the road

Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen both face Bundesliga opposition in Wednesday's cup games. Defending champions Bayern travel to Augsburg with injury problems of their own, but must remain runaway favorites in a season where they're yet to lose.

Leverkusen, meanwhile, head for Freiburg to take on a team struggling to compete on three fronts. Despite making headway in the Europa League as well as the cup, coach Christian Streich might trade both of these runs for another 10 Bundesliga points guarding against relegation.

Wolfsburg's resurgent side entertain second-division strugglers Ingolstadt on Wednesday, while off-form Eintracht Frankfurt are at home to another second-tier troupe, SV Sandhausen.