Thursday evening promises another festival of football for German fans as five Bundesliga sides seek to progress to the UEFA Cup group stage. Hertha BSC Berlin and VfB Stuttgart are in strong positions to advance as they hold first-leg leads, while Hamburger SV, 1. FSV Mainz 05 and Bayer 04 Leverkusen must score to stand any chance of joining them.
In the capital, confidence is high among Hertha supporters that their club will see off Cyprus's APOEL FC and book their place in the next round. Falko Götz's team have a 1-0 advantage from the opening game in Nicosia, though general manager Dieter Hoeness believes victory at the Olympiastadion should not be taken for granted. "We cannot afford to underestimate our opponents," he said. "A victory is a must for our club, because we want to be part of the very lucrative group stage of this competition."
Giovanni Trapattoni's Stuttgart face a trip into the unknown as they travel to Slovenia with a 2-0 cushion to play NK Domžale. Only 2,500 spectators will be able to watch the match at the idyllic Športni Park, but the Italian coach is wary of the opposition. "They will be extremely motivated and will fight to the end," he said. "However, if we perform to the best of our ability we will win the game."
The most exciting tie from a German viewpoint is likely to be Mainz-Sevilla FC. In their debut European campaign, Jürgen Klopp's side surprised many by coming away from Spain with a goalless draw, and Klopp is looking for his team to continue their fine run, which began in the first qualifying round following their Fair Play entry. "We are in good shape," said Klopp. "If we win, we will set a milestone which the fans will be talking about for the next 30 years."
Hamburg also drew their first leg against FC København. However, they visit Denmark having conceded an away goal, meaning they must score at least once to have any hope of progress, although Thomas Doll's men will be brimming with confidence after inflicting FC Bayern München's first seasonal defeat at the weekend. "We are aware of the huge amount of pressure on us, especially after our victory against Bayern," said Doll. "Both sides are unbeaten this season, but one of those runs will end tonight."
Yet it is Leverkusen who face the tallest order of the German clubs. The 2001/02 UEFA Champions League finalists suffered a shock 1-0 home reverse against PFC CSKA Sofia, resulting in the departure of coach Klaus Augenthaler. Former Germany boss Rudi Völler has taken over temporarily and will attempt to turn the tie in Bulgaria. "It will be very difficult for us, but it is not impossible," he said.
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