Bayer 04 Leverkusen coach Klaus Toppmöller is aware his team face their toughest test yet by taking on the might of Real Madrid CF but believes his side can rise to the challenge.
The 50-year-old has had a fairytale first season at the BayArena, guiding Leverkusen to within a whisker of claiming the domestic title and cup. That they missed out on both trophies will only spur them on even more against highly-fancied Madrid in Wednesday's final of the UEFA Champions League. En route to Hampden Park, Leverkusen have already beaten Spanish opposition in the shape of FC Barcelona and RC Deportivo La Coruña.
"We are all looking forward to this final," said Toppmöller. "It is of course a great success for our club, even more considering the opponent. It has always been my dream to be able one day to play against Real. That it will now happen in the final is a great honor for us. The favorite will certainly be Real Madrid. But I think that this season we have had some good experiences against Spanish clubs.
Hoping for top form
"My team knows that the entire world will be watching us, and as the underdogs of this final we will certainly do our utmost because we know that Real have great star players such as [Zinedine] Zidane, [Luis] Figo, Raúl [González], [Fernando] Hierro and all the others. Of course, in a one-off final like this everything is normally possible. I hope that we will be in top form on that day and that maybe Real will under-estimate us a bit."
Scottish help wanted
Leverkusen's chances will be hindered by the absence of the injured Jens Nowotny and the suspended Zé Roberto, but Toppmöller is looking for some local backing to spur his depleted squad on to greatness. "I hope that the Scottish fans will support us a bit, because I'm sure that Real Madrid will be followed by a large number of supporters," he said. "It would therefore be good for us if the neutral supporters could give some support to the underdogs."
Midfield battle crucial
He believes the path to victory lies in winning the battle for possession in the centre of the pitch and never allowing Madrid to settle on the ball. "We must stand very close to our opponents in particular in midfield. That is certainly the key to success. We must avoid allowing them to develop their team play."
'We will not hide'
He identified the Spanish team's defence as its weakness and in the likes of Oliver Neuville, Michael Ballack and Yildiray Bastürk, Leverkusen do possess enough firepower to cause problems, just ask Manchester United FC. "If you look at Real's squad and their economic power, they are clearly have a big advantage. But we also have good players in our team, and I'm sure they will fight to death. We will not hide."
Wary of Raúl
Coaches are normally reluctant to pick out individual threats, especially in a team full of superstars but Toppmöller confessed that it would be particularly "important to stop Raúl, who has already scored so many important goals".
Leverkusen have thrived under Toppmöller's astute coaching, which has brought the best out of many players who before the season were relatively unknown across Europe. Always willing to adapt his lineup, for instance in changing from a four to a three at the back in order to flood the midfield, Topmoller's aim has consistently been "to dominate our opponents".
'We want to please'
There is no doubt that Madrid will be the toughest of all to dominate. However, Leverkusen will certainly give it their all, particularly going forward. "One of my maxims is to decide the matches up front," said Toppmöller. "We want to please our fans."
After a whirlwind season among Europe's elite, Leverkusen supporters will say they are more than pleased already. But surely they would not say no to the prospect of a little more pleasure come Wednesday night?
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