Cologne - Local pride is at stake as 1. FC Köln prepare to lock horns with near-neighbours Fortuna Düsseldorf (Sunday, 15:30 CEST).

Emblematic of the intense regional and cultural rivalry shared by the Bundesliga 2 foes, the Rhine derby is very much the be all and end all in these parts - for players and fans alike.

Omens


"These sort of matches are always a big deal," explained Fortuna defender Tobias Levels. "I hope the football does the talking, so everyone involved can enjoy the occasion. We'll be going to Cologne looking for a repeat of the Cottbus game," he told bundesliga.com.

Fortuna stole an early march on the Billy Goats after notching an opening day win over Energie Cottbus, but they make the 25-mile venture to the RheinEnergieStadion with the record books firmly against them. Düsseldorf may have won the last Bundesliga 2 meeting between the two sides in 1998/99, yet it is nearly 24 years since they registered a league win on the road, and almost 22 since they even scored on Cologne soil.

"Highlight of the season"


So it would appear Peter Stöger's men hold something of an Indian sign over Fortuna, at home anyway, and if you ask anyone in the city itself, it is not just their football that tops the regional pile. For the locals, their customs, beer (Kölsch) and Karneval celebrations trump anything the Düsseldorf fashionistas have to offer - and that's how they like it. "You don't see people in Düsseldorf playing the air guitar," joked a Köln fan.

Of course that could soon change with Fortuna hero Andreas 'Lumpi' Lambertz fully intent on bringing home the derby honours come Sunday evening. "We want to come away with the win," he said. "For the fans, it's the highlight of the season and I for one can't wait."

"Extraordinary"


He's not the only one. Stöger, for whom Sunday's clash represents his first competitive outing as Köln coach in front of the Billy Goats' faithful, as well as his maiden Rhine derby, is thrilled to be involved. "It's going to be extraordinary," he enthused. "I'm really excited. The backdrop is going to be great. It should be an interesting game."

That's an understatement. Regional rivalries don't come much bigger and for all the similarities the two Rhine cities share at base level, Düsseldorf and Köln could not be any further apart. Ladies and gentleman, get ready to rock - Rhine style.

Christopher Mayer-Lodge