They say attack is the best form of defence. Well, Michael Ballack will be repeating the familiar coach's mantra when he and Bayer 04 Leverkusen take on Real Madrid CF in the UEFA Champions League final.
'Madrid are favourites'
The German international believes it is Leverkusen's best chance of upsetting the odds at Glasgow's Hampden Park. "Madrid are favourites, but we have shown our qualities by beating some big clubs," the midfield player said. "If you go at them, they can get into trouble. Where it gets difficult is when you sit back and try to avoid conceding a goal. We have to play an offensive game. We too have players who can decide a match."
Madrid's weak link
Leverkusen might have match-winners, but these have not been enough to bring a trophy to the BayArena. Runners-up in the 1. Bundesliga and German Cup, their season now rests on one game. "We have had the disappointment of finishing second in the league. But I think Real are in the same boat," he said. Madrid also had to settle for second best in both domestic competitions and Ballack can see a chink in their armour. "They failed to win their league, so there must be a better team in Spain. Maybe they weren't strong enough mentally in key games. This makes us confident that in a one-off match we have a chance."
Respect and recognition
Liverpool FC and Manchester United FC might say they have more than that. Leverkusen knocked them out in the quarter and semi-finals respectively, the prize scalps of a campaign in which Leverkusen have also beaten the French and Italian champions, Olympique Lyonnais and Juventus FC. "Maybe they underestimated us and that gave us a slight edge," Ballack said. "But you cannot reach a final on luck alone - we have played good football. And this has earned us respect and recognition from our opponents."
Change of attitude
Ballack's displays have earned more than praise, and after the FIFA World Cup he will complete a transfer to FC Bayern München. He will leave behind the man he credits with reviving his and Leverkusen's fortunes - coach Klaus Toppmöller. "I had a few problems at the start of the season," the 25-year-old explained. "But the coach took me to one side and told me what he expected from me. This took the pressure off and allowed me to go into the campaign with the right attitude. Toppmöller has been very demanding with me, but because of this I, like others in the team, have been able to develop.
Thank you, Mr Toppmöller
"The way we have played reflects the ideas and attitude of the coach. Thanks to him we have played well and got results, although we still haven't won a trophy. It was not easy for him. The club was in turmoil because they had not done as well as expected last season. And when he arrived he had to get to know the players. But he has done a great job and is the main reason for our success. We all owe him a big thank you."
Chance of a lifetime
What better way for Leverkusen to express their gratitude than by lifting the European Champion Clubs' Cup. It is asking a lot. But Ballack knows he may never get the chance again. "For some it still hasn't sunk in that we have made it to Glasgow," he said. "People compare the Champions League final to the World Cup final, so whoever plays will give their all. We know that this will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most of us."
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