Werder Bremen could welcome back Germany striker Miroslav Klose for their pivotal Group C encounter with Panathinaikos FC as they bid to reach the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds. But the Greek visitors have European aspirations of their own and a draw would keep their campaign alive.
Bremen must win at the Weserstadion and hope table-toppers FC Barcelona defeat Udinese Calcio in order to make the last 16 - and coach Thomas Schaaf hopes the return of Klose can provide the key to victory. The 27-year-old broke his cheekbone during the 3-1 Matchday 5 loss to Barça, but could play wearing a protective mask. "I'm not in any pain," said Klose, the Bundesliga's 14-goal leading scorer. "I might be a little nervous going up for headers but that's only natural."
Strike partner Ivan Klasnić is unavailable, however, as he has yet to recover following an appendix operation, so Klose should be joined by Nelson Valdez in attack. Frank Baumann, Tim Borowski and Naldo have all been passed fit though, with captain Baumann determined to make an impression. "It's an extremely important game for the club," said the defender. "We're all highly motivated and keen to help our side progress."
Schaaf echoed that sentiment and insisted his players were fully focused on the UEFA Champions League, despite some inconsistent domestic form. Bremen have lost two and won three of their last five games, with all their triumphs coming at home, including Saturday's 2-0 success against MSV Duisburg. Schaaf hopes 'fortress Weserstadion' again comes into play. "We are strong at the Weserstadion and will look to display our attacking qualities," he said, "but not at the cost of our defence.
"The key will be finding the right balance between defence and attack." Failure to do so could allow Panathinaikos - level with Bremen on four points and, crucially, 2-1 victors against the Germans on Matchday 2 - to seal third spot and a UEFA Cup berth. Visiting coach Alberto Malesani is targeting just that as he seeks some European respite after a turbulent few weeks. Panathinaikos's Greek Cup elimination by second-division Ergotelis FC preceded Saturday's last-gasp 1-0 Alpha Ethniki defeat by Atromitos FC.
"I'm an optimistic person," said Malesani. "I'm convinced we can show another side to our game in Bremen and enjoy more success than we have of late." Those failures have coincided with the suspension of playmaker Ezequiel González, but he should return, although the identity of the forwards he will look to provide for remains a secret. Evangelos Mantzios has linked up with Dimitrios Papadopoulos in recent weeks, but with Sándor Torghelle so effective in the 2-1 victory against Bremen, Malesani might recall the Hungarian.
A draw or a win would take Panathinaikos into the UEFA Cup - they cannot overtake second-placed Udinese - but their coach is urging caution: "I expect a very aggressive and offensive Bremen side. We'll be prepared for that and wait for the chance to counterattack."
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