There is an air of confidence in the Bayer 04 Leverkusen camp ahead of tonight's UEFA Champions League final against Real Madrid CF. Or at least that is the impression the German first-time finalists are trying to give.
'Happy to be in final'
"We are very happy to be in the final," Leverkusen coach Klaus Toppmöller told the assembled press in Glasgow yesterday. Toppmöller stressed his players "would not hide" and added: "We have tried to represent German football throughout the competition and we will try to do the same tomorrow."
Represent German football is something Leverkusen have done with no little style en route to the final. And having got this far, they insist they have not come to Glasgow just for the occasion. "We are clear underdogs against Real, but maybe they will underestimate us a bit and this could work in our favour," said Toppmöller. "We will be ready for a sensational result on Wednesday."
Cup final defeat
Sensational might be overplaying it, but a Leverkusen win would certainly send minor ripples across the continent - plus a wave of delight across the Rheinland, where they are tired of finishing second. Leverkusen were beaten 4-2 by FC Schalke 04 in last Saturday's German Cup final - their second bitter disappointment in a week after losing out on the 1. Bundesliga title to BV Borussia Dortmund.
No motivation needed
Toppmöller denied this would provide extra motivation. "We cannot look back at what happened and have to accept the loss," he said, with just a hint of nerves. "We will use our skill to give Real a tough time. I do not think my players need special encouragement from me as you do not play in a Champions League final every day."
According to Toppmöller, Madrid will go out to attack. "I expect Real to play offensively with Raúl [González] and [Fernando] Morientes in attack," he said. "I don't want to build up our opponents to be stronger than they are. We know them well, we know their qualities and weaknesses." Missing against Madrid will be German international defender Jens Nowotny, who has undergone surgery in the United States on the knee ligaments damaged in the semi-final against Manchester United FC. The absence of Nowotny, Toppmöller insisted, would not significantly alter his tactical approach to the game.
'We will not hide'
"Nowotny has had a wonderful season and we will certainly miss him but his replacement will do his best to live up to expectations. We will not change tactics because of his injury and we will certainly not hide," Toppmöller said. The likely deputy for Nowotny is the Bulgarian international Dmitar Berbatov. Another absentee is the suspended Brazilian midfielder Zé Roberto, whose place should go to Croatian international Boris Zivkovic.
Despite their recent domestic disappointments, Leverkusen goalkeeper Hans-Jörg Butt insisted that victories in Europe against the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool FC - their semi-final and quarter-final victims - had ensured there was no lack of confidence in the club's ranks.
'The best thing'
"Playing in the Champions League final is the best thing that can happen to a club and we are looking forward to tomorrow's match," said Butt yesterday. "We are not the favourites but we have managed to beat some of the best clubs in Europe and we will try to win the match. The chances of winning are higher after beating Man Utd and Liverpool."
Tonight's final will be the sides' fifth meeting - and Leverkusen are still seeking their first victory over the Merengues. In the 1998 quarter-finals they followed a 1-1 home draw with a 3-0 defeat in the Santiago Bernabéu. Two years later, meanwhile, Leverkusen lost 5-3 and 3-2 in two group stage matches.
Leverkusen midfielder Carsten Ramelow denied those results would have any bearing on the outcome. "I have played several times against Real and I know them very well but nevertheless we are quite optimistic - we have nothing to fear," he said. "I am very relaxed despite the pressure ahead of the game. We have to keep the right attitude, we will play and see how it goes." How relaxed they really are we will see tonight.
Butt, Sebescen, Zivkovic, Lucio, Placente, Ramelow, Schneider, Ballack, Bastürk, Brdaric, Neuville
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