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The 2. Bundesliga is the second division of professional football in Germany. The 2. Bundesliga is ranked below the Bundesliga and above the 3. Liga in the German football league system. All of the 2. Bundesliga clubs qualify for the DFB-Pokal, the annual German Cup competition. A total of 125 clubs have competed in the 2. Bundesliga since its foundation.
The decision to establish the league as the second level of football in West Germany was made in May 1973. The league started operating in August 1974, then with two divisions of 20 clubs. It was reduced to a single division in 1981. From the 1991–92 season onwards clubs from former East Germany started participating in the league, briefly expanding it to two divisions again. It returned to a single division format again at the end of that season and has had 18 clubs as its strength since 1994.Two clubs from the 2. Bundesliga are directly promoted to the Bundesliga, while a third promoted club has been determined through play-offs from 1974 to 1991 and again since 2008. Between 1991 and 2008 the third-placed club in the league was directly promoted. The bottom clubs in the league are relegated to the third division which has been, from 1974 to 1994 the Oberliga, from 1994 to 2008 the Regionalliga and since 2008 the 3. Liga. The number of relegated clubs has fluctuated over the years. Since 2008 two clubs are directly relegated while the third-last team has the opportunity to defend its league place in play-offs against the third placed team of the 3. Liga.
The league level below the 2. Bundesliga was changed profoundly in 1994 with the Oberligas replaced by the new Regionalligas, which allowed for direct promotion to the 2. Bundesliga. The league itself was now reduced to 18 clubs with no play-offs, three promoted and four relegated teams, a system it would maintain until 2008, when the play-offs were re-introduced. Hansa Rostock won the 2. Bundesliga for the first time in 1995 and FC St. Pauli and Fortuna Düsseldorf followed it up to the Bundesliga.
Since the 2006–07 season there is no longer a limit on non-EU players in the league. Instead clubs are required to have 8 players on the squad who have come up through the youth system of a German club, 4 of which have to come from the club's own youth system. Seven substitutes are permitted to be selected, from which three can be used in the duration of the game.
The first-ever game of the league was played on Friday, 2 August 1974 between 1. FC Saarbrücken and Darmstadt 98 and ended in a 1–0 win for Saarbrücken, with Nikolaus Semlitsch scoring the first-ever goal of the new league. The inaugural champions of the league were Hannover 96 in the north and Karlsruher SC in the south, both former Bundesliga clubs.