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SV Werder Bremen captain Torsten Frings says "a lot is on the line" when the Bundesliga club host UC Sampdoria in the first instalment of their play-off tie seeking a swift return to the UEFA Champions League.
Last season's participation in the UEFA Europa League represented something of a break from recent tradition for Thomas Schaaf's team, who, until that point, had competed in the group stage of Europe's premier club competition for five consecutive campaigns. Now, having assumed the role of frustrated onlooker in 2009/10, Frings is eager not to miss out once again. "We have to show on the pitch that we really want to get into the Champions League," said Frings. "A lot is on the line for the club."
While Bremen have injury concerns over defender Naldo, whose knee problem also makes him a doubt for the return in Italy next week, and reserve goalkeeper Christian Vander, they will certainly be without Mesut Özil after the 21-year-old joined Real Madrid CF for a reported fee of €15m on Tuesday. Should Naldo be unable to feature, Sebastian Prödl is expected to deputise. His partner in the centre of defence, Per Mertesacker, is anticipating a stern test against last season's surprise package in Serie A.
"This will be a really difficult task," he said. "Sampdoria are a very strong Italian side with two dangerous strikers [Antonio Cassano and Giampaolo Pazzini], but we accept the challenge and want to lay the foundation for our progress with a strong performance on Wednesday."
Taking part at this level for the first time since they reached the final in 1991/92, Sampdoria have travelled to Germany without defender Pietro Accardi (right ankle), midfielders Vladimir Koman and Paolo Sammarco and forward Salvatore Foti. Domenico Di Carlo, who is preparing to oversee his first match in UEFA club competition, thinks Bremen will cope admirably without their departed playmaker. "We knew from the beginning that Werder Bremen were not only about Özil," he said.
"They remain a very strong team even without their great player. Özil is a very talented attacking midfielder but I'm sure their coach already has many solutions to cope without him. We cannot forget that they have other great talents like [Marko] Marin and [Aaron] Hunt."
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