No one expected SV Werder Bremen to win the German Bundesliga last season but the club's coach, Thomas Schaaf, did not mind. In fact, Schaaf was very happy with the role of underdog and is now hoping to confound the critics again as his side prepare for the UEFA Champions League.
Bremen are currently preparing for their first European adventure since the 2002/03 UEFA Cup campaign and their first Champions League outing since 1993/94, when they were eliminated in the group stage. And Schaaf for one cannot wait to get going.
"We have been waiting for this for a long time," he told uefa.com. "
We have been without Champions League football for too long and we have missed it. We have set ourselves high standards with our performances last season and that adds a bit of pressure. But I can't understand why we can't make an impact in Europe if we play the way we did last season."
Success in Munich
Bremen led the Bundesliga for most of the campaign and clinched the title two rounds before the end of the season, beating the reigning champions FC Bayern München 3-1 at the Olympiastadion in Munich. In the end, they won the league by six points.
The 43-year-old Schaaf said: "It was a wonderful season and a wonderful ending to it. To be able to clinch the title with two matchdays remaining and to do it on the home pitch of the reigning champions made it that little bit extra special. The players deserved it."
Schaaf is Bremen through and through. He played 262 Bundesliga games for the club between 1972 and 1995, and coached the youth team and the amateur side before being handed the reins of the first team in May 1999. Since then, the team have made constant progress despite having limited finances.
Schaaf has taken most of the credit, but he is eager to point out that the real heroes have been the players. "The team deserve most of the praise for this success," he said. "We had some outstanding individual talents in the team but the key was that they all worked together as a team and that proved decisive in the end."
He added: "They knew what to do defensively as well as when they went forward. We played some nice football and that is important as well. To get results is always the most important thing but if you can achieve that by playing good football then it is even better and I think we did that last season."
However, success had its price as Bremen were forced to say goodbye to two of their finest players in the summer, lured away by more lucrative deals at FC Schalke 04. Losing defender Mladen Krstajic was bad, but Brazilian Ailton, who scored 28 goals in 33 Bundesliga games last season, was a huge loss.
Nonetheless Schaaf is still optimistic, saying: "Qualifying for the Champions League means that we have some money and we have already spent quite a lot of money on Miroslav Klose, who will be a good signing. I am confident that we will be able to challenge in the new season as well."
Others may see Schaaf's side as underdogs, but the coach does not want for confidence. "German teams have not had a particularly few good years in Europe, apart from maybe Bayern München," he said. "Now it is up to us to change that."
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