As the rain fell and the temperature dropped at the Weserstadion last night, Werder Bremen knew it was going to be their night. The scene of many a famous comeback, a new chapter was added to the stadium's folklore as the German side defeated Panathinaikos FC 5-1 to progress to the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League.
Whereas thrilling European triumphs against the odds versus FC Spartak Moskva in 1987/88, East German champions Berliner FC the following season and Club Brugge KV in 1991/92 were all about the brilliance of Bremen, Wednesday's success owed as much to the professionalism of FC Barcelona as it did to the determination of Thomas Schaaf's team. For Bremen's victory would have been a pyrrhic one had the Spanish champions not beaten Udinese Calcio in Italy.
The Serie A side needed just a draw against Barça to pip Bremen to a place in the knockout rounds, and were five minutes away from doing so before Santiago Ezquerro and Andrés Iniesta scored for Barcelona. The first strike prompted scenes of unbridled joy in the Weserstadion, and not only among the fans. "When we heard the crowd cheering in the final minutes, we knew that it was definitely not Udinese who had scored. That was a great feeling," defender Leon Andreasen told uefa.com.
Paraguayan Nelson Valdez, scorer of Bremen's second and third goals and a lifelong Barcelona supporter, saw the drama unfold from the dugout having been replaced by Aaron Hunt in the 79th minute. "I was on the bench looking at the fourth official's TV screen," said Valdez. "Suddenly, all I saw was men in yellow celebrating a goal. Within seconds, the Weserstadion turned into one huge place of joy and happiness. Now, I'm even a bigger Barça fan."
After Barcelona had moved 2-0 ahead, there was still time for Torsten Frings to cap a magical evening with Bremen's fifth goal. "Thanks a lot to Barcelona," said the midfielder. "We put all our hope and faith in Barça because they had been the best team in the group and we knew they wouldn't let us down." Coach Thomas Schaaf added: "My players can be very proud of themselves. They performed outstandingly and from the very first minute believed in themselves."
General manager Klaus Allofs - a former 'Weser Wonder' as a player alongside Schaaf - looked forward to the "additional income" that comes with UEFA Champions League longevity, while also sounding a note of caution with memories of last season's humiliating 10-2 aggregate defeat by Olympique Lyonnais in the last 16 still fresh. "I hope we draw an attractive club in the next round, but not Lyon. We're hungry to face them at a later date."
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