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FCB continue pursuit of precious third place

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FCB continue pursuit of precious third place

Postby FCBayernNews » Sat Apr 14, 2007 7:15 pm


Bayern were knocked out of the Champions League by AC Milan in midweek, but Europe's elite competition is the elephant in the room on Sunday when Bayern continue their pursuit of a qualifying berth for next season in their home Bundesliga fixture against Bayer 04 Leverkusen (<b>Live in English from 4.45 pm CET on Web Radio</b>). "Our minimum duty is to qualify for the Champions League," Daniel van Buyten confirmed, "we have to bounce back from the defeat."

Ottmar Hitzfeld reinforced the message to his men ahead of the meeting with the side lying fifth. "It's a question of character," the Bayern coach insisted. "We have to get back to winning ways at once, and invest everything in taking all three points."

<b>Stuttgart maintain gap</b>

Certainly, the squad appears to have moved on from the deep disappointment of defeat to Milan. "My players have put the defeat behind them," Hitzfeld reckoned. Added Van Buyten: "We just have to concentrate totally on our remaining matches." The champions have six outstanding Bundesliga fixtures, "and we have to try and win the lot," the coach declared.

Bayern must finish at least third to claim a qualifying place in the Champions League, but the coveted berth is proving highly elusive. The Bavarians have been treading water in fourth since matchday 18, and will remain there even if they succeed in beating Leverkusen on Sunday. Third-placed VfB Stuttgart guaranteed at least a two point advantage over FCB with a 2-1 victory against Hanover on Saturday.

<b>Weakened Leverkusen side</b>

The men from Munich can first overtake Stuttgart when they travel to the Gottlieb Daimler stadium for a crunch showdown against VfB in a week's time, although that of course depends on the Reds beating Bayer on Sunday. Leverkusen arrive at the Allianz Arena in similarly downbeat mood after a 4-0 aggregate defeat to CA Osasuna in the UEFA Cup quarter-finals, including a 1-0 defeat in Spain last Thursday. It was the Rhineland club's third defeat on the trot, and they must win in Munich to defend fifth spot against Nuremberg, 1-0 home winners over Aachen.

However, the visitors have been hit by a host of selection problems. Bernd Schneider, in sparkling form since the winter break, and striker Stefan Kießling are both suspended, with injury accounting for Carsten Ramelow and Roque Junior. Tranquillo Barnetta, Ahmed Madouni and Brazil centre-half Juan are all doubtful.

<b>Hitzfeld pledges team changes</b>

"Everyone expects us to lose, and that's our chance," Leverkusen director of sport Rudi Völler insisted. "We have nothing to lose, and we'll give a decent account of ourselves." Hitzfeld was in appropriately respectful mood: "Leverkusen are going through a minor crisis, but that makes them even more dangerous. They'd recover instantly by beating us. We're prepared for them."

Munich will need to keep a close eye on the second-best strike force in the league with its total of 44 goals, although the Bayer defence has wobbled of late. "There are two distinct sides to Leverkusen," Hitzfeld acknowledged, announcing "one or two changes" to his own line-up.

<b>Raring to go</b>

The head coach may well offer some of his key players a break after the rigours of the last few weeks. Willy Sagnol (knee surgery), Bastian Schweinsteiger (knee), Martin Demichelis (calf) and Mehmet Scholl (hamstring) are in any case out of the match. Mark van Bommel (hay fever) and Hasan Salihamidzic (strain) both came through Saturday training unscathed and should start.

Van Buyten called on his team-mates "to give it everything" in the battle for a lucrative and prestigious Champions League qualifying place. "Sunday's match will be decisive," Hitzfeld summarised.

<b>Probable line ups:</b>

<b>Bayern Munich:</b> Kahn - Lell, Lucio, Van Buyten, Lahm - Salihamidzic, Van Bommel, Hargreaves, Santa Cruz - Makaay, Podolski
<b>Also in matchday squad:</b> Rensing, Ismael, Ottl, Görlitz, Karimi, Pizarro

<b>Bayer Leverkusen:</b> Adler - Castro, Madouni (Haggui), Juan (Callsen- Bracker), Babic - Rolfes - Freier, Schwegler, Barnetta - Barbarez - Voronin

<b>Referee:</b> Knut Kircher (Rottenburg)

<b>Bayern's record in the fixture:</b> P27 W20 D5 L2 F62 A24
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