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Champions ideally placed at halfway mark

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Champions ideally placed at halfway mark

Postby FCBayernNews » Sun Dec 14, 2008 9:00 pm

Late on Sunday afternoon, when Bundesliga leaders TSG Hoffenheim entertained Schalke 04 in the final match of the first half of the league programme, most of the Bayern playing and coaching staff were gathered at a secret location near the Tegernsee lake. "We have our Christmas party tomorrow, so we have better things to do," declared manager Uli Hoeneß when asked if he would be following the game on TV. "I won't be watching, because we're on holiday now," agreed Philipp Lahm on Saturday after Bayern's 2-2 draw in Stuttgart.

Even if Hoeneß, Lahm and Co really decided against switching on the TV, they will certainly not be dissatisfied with the result from Mannheim, where TSG and S04 drew 1-1 at the end of a tense and incident-packed encounter. New kids on the block Hoffenheim, the surprise package of the season so far, thus claim the unofficial 'autumn championship' awarded to the league leaders at the halfway point in the campaign, but only on goal difference from the Bavarians.

Bayern boss Jürgen Klinsmann had already issued a positive summary of the season so far. "The team has been really impressive in recent months and we're ideally placed for the second half of the campaign - regardless of how it ends in Hoffenheim," the coach observed, "we're exactly where we wanted to be."

After a patchy start, Bayern are now undefeated in their last 16 matches and have amassed 35 Bundesliga points, only one short of last season's total at the same stage, when the eventual champions and Werder Bremen entered the mid-season break neck-and-neck. "We've been fantastic recently. We're fit, we have unbelievable desire, and the team spirit is there. We're feeling positive as we go into the winter break," Hoeneß declared on Saturday.

Klinsmann: VfB deserved a point

"We were a long way behind, but now we're unbeaten in our last 16 matches, so I think we're in good shape," mused Mark van Bommel, throwing down the gauntlet to the club's domestic rivals: "If we keep going like this and don't lose matches, we'll be unstoppable."

Bayern were only prevented from running up another three points in Stuttgart by a last-gasp equaliser. "It gnaws away at you when you concede a goal right at the end. But looking back on the match now, you have to say VfB deserved their point," Klinsmann summarised on Sunday. "Obviously it would be nice if Schalke won and we were top at Christmas. But the title race won't be decided tomorrow," a relaxed Bastian Schweinsteiger said immediately after Saturday's thriller.

Disputed red card

As to events in Stuttgart, the Bayern camp was ultimately less concerned about the last-minute equaliser than two controversial refereeing decisions. The first was the dismissal of Massimo Oddo in the 85th minute. "It was never a red card. There was no intent," Hoeneß pointed out, although the Italian's challenge on Stuttgart's Christian Träsch was unquestionably a hard one. "A fatal decision, and one we absolutely can't understand. He clearly went for the ball and just didn't see his opponent coming. The red card was a mistake and the match turned on it," Klinsmann said.

The second talking point was an incident directly leading to the equaliser, when Jens Lehmann, making a nuisance of himself in the box in the dying seconds, seemed to impede Michael Rensing. "Before they made it 2-2, Rensing was fouled by Lehmann after he'd fisted clear. But I'm not complaining, the ref clearly didn't see it," commented Hoeneß. "After the second foul, when my shirt was pulled, he had to whistle," Rensing moaned.

Aiming high

However, match official Thorsten Kinhöfer allowed play to continue and Khedira smacked a volley into the roof of the net. "Those either go in, or land in the River Neckar," the Germany U-21 starlet reflected with a grin. Khedira headed the opener in first-half injury time, but Tim Borowski (48) and Luca Toni (66) turned the match on its head and set Bayern on the road to victory - or so it seemed. "That was a superb physical performance from the team after Wednesday's tough game in Lyon," commented Klinsmann.

"We deserved to win on the basis of the second half, but we have to live with the result, and that's that," said Rummenigge, drawing a line under a very successful first half of the season. "We're heading in the right direction, and we have every reason to be optimistic about the future," the chairman continued, "our rivals will have trouble dealing with us." That applies both to the domestic and international scene, as Klinsmann stated: "We're still in three competitions, and we have big plans for all of them."
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