Werder Bremen may have scored five goals of their own to comfortably defeat Panathinaikos FC, but it was a telling strike hundreds of kilometres away in Italy which ultimately sealed their passage to the first knockout round of the UEFA Champions League.
Bremen entered Matchday 6 at the foot of Group C, yet knew they would advance with a win should FC Barcelona do likewise at Udinese Calcio. An early Johan Micoud penalty, two Nelson Valdez goals and further efforts from Miroslav Klose and Torsten Frings enabled Bremen to keep their half of the bargain, although supporters at the packed Weserstadion were only able to celebrate when news filtered through of Barça's late success.
With Ivan Klasnić failing to recover from his appendix operation and Tim Borowski missing with a groin injury, the Bundesliga side paired Valdez and Klose - playing with the aid of a protective mask - in attack to great effect. Jurica Vranješ deputised for Borowski while defensive rock Naldo was benched for the first time this season, sidelined literally by a pain in the neck. In came Leon Andreasen.
Needing a draw to reach the UEFA Cup ahead of their hosts, Alberto Malesani plumped for a defensive selection featuring Sándor Torghelle as the lone striker in front of a five-man midfield. That quintet was supposed to act as a shield as well as counterattacking when the opportunity arose, but failed to do either as Bremen made a blistering start. With less than two minutes gone, Frings slipped a beautiful low ball through to Klose who was sent crashing to the turf by goalkeeper Mario Galinović.
Having been shown a yellow card, Galinović's next act was to pick the ball out of the net after Micoud cheekily sent him the wrong way with his penalty. Opposition playmaker Ezequiel González was again his team's most creative performer, playing in Dimitrios Papadopoulos whose shot from a sharp angle flew the wrong side of the post.
Within minutes, though, Panathinaikos were 3-0 down as the German club registered two excellent goals. The first owed much to fine teamwork and composure as Micoud brilliantly headed a Christian Schulz free-kick from the right into the path of Valdez. The Paraguayan had time to stoop and control before turning the ball in from five metres.
He struck his second three minutes later with Micoud again involved. He found space in an advanced position before playing another perfect pass to Valdez who comfortably touched it beyond Galinović from close range. The Greek visitors had every right to be crestfallen as they trudged off at half-time, yet they were surprisingly sprightly as play resumed, González doing his best to trouble home goalkeeper Andreas Reinke.
When the fourth goal of the evening arrived, however, it went Bremen's way as Micoud sprayed a long ball forward for Klose to chase. The German international outstripped the last defender and had the nous to tempt Galinović to ground before calmly slotting into an empty net. With the match over, as well as their European ambitions, Panathinaikos reduced arrears as Nasief Morris outjumped Valdez to nod in a Loukas Vintra corner.
Valdez could have made amends soon after, only to head Klose's cross wide. Yet it was to have no bearing on the game, as the crowd rose as one to salute Santiago Ezquerro's 85th-minute strike for Barcelona. The Catalans had time to add another, as did Bremen as Frings capped a momentous night in added time.
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