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FC Bayern München fans have experienced a roller-coaster ride this season, but midfielder Anatoliy Tymoshchuk is convinced the team's early jitters are behind them as they look to maintain their upward curve.
Bayern's struggles during the first part of the campaign are well documented. The vibes from the Bavarian giants' camp are positive now, though, as they prepare for a UEFA Champions League first knockout round decider at ACF Fiorentina. "We are in very good physical condition and we believe in ourselves," Tymoshchuk told UEFA.com. "We need to be sharp in attack. I think we are strong enough to beat them."
Louis van Gaal's Bundesliga pacesetters hold a 2-1 lead over their Serie A rivals and Tymoshchuk, 30, is aware of the expectation at Germany's most successful club. "Bayern have a great winning history – but not in the last few years," he conceded. "Everyone is expecting us to win a European trophy. I think it is possible with this team because we have very good players. With players of this quality we can win any tournament."
The Ukrainian international anchorman says his colleagues "realise just how strong the competition is" in the UEFA Champions League but are hitting their stride at a perfect moment. "At the beginning of the season we had a new coach, new players," he said. "That's why our play was nervous, not too confident. After three or four months the players started to get a feel for each other's game, started to function as a team on the field, understood what the coach wanted from us –
we got our game back."
That confidence seemed in short supply ahead of the Matchday 6 meeting with Juventus in December, when Bayern needed a win in Turin to reach the knockout phase. "We knew how important that game was for us, because everything depended on it," said Tymoshchuk, a former FC Shakhtar Donetsk stalwart who captained FC Zenit St. Petersburg to 2008 UEFA Cup glory. "Our future in the Champions League depended on it. We played well because we concentrated on winning. You could feel the spirit."
What followed was a resounding 4-1 victory at the home of one of Europe's top clubs. Tymoshchuk made a key contribution as a substitute, keeping his side's advantage intact before extending it in added time. "That was my first goal for Bayern and I was very excited. When I got on the pitch I felt the responsibility on my shoulders because the score was 2-1. The coach expected me to at least protect that scoreline. I went out and was lucky enough to score the fourth goal."
A genuine football enthusiast, Tymoshchuk has collected more than 200 shirts from matches, including "lots of memorable ones" – none more so than that of the former Bayern notable who inspired him as a youngster. "Lothar Matthäus is one of the greatest. It was the 1990 World Cup in Italy when I started to follow his career. I especially liked the way he played, how he acted on the field."
Tymoshchuk even wore – for luck – one of Matthäus's armbands earlier in his career. The superstitions do not end there, however: for the past decade he has sworn by the same "T-shirt that I always put on under the team jersey". Bayern's No44 also tried to buy a flat on the 44th floor of a skyscraper. Yet it is for football reasons that he will travel to Florence with optimism high on Tuesday. "We have to give everything we have, deliver a good performance, and then everything will be fine."
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