When the group stage draw paired Werder Bremen with Valencia CF, FC Internazionale Milano and RSC Anderlecht, many thought the Bundesliga team's first UEFA Champions League challenge in a decade would be brief. Bremen, however, had other ideas, collecting 13 points from their six games to finish second behind Inter.
'Achieve the task'
Even Bremen sporting director Klaus Allofs was surprised by his side's success. "As soon as the draw was made we started doing our maths and came to the conclusion that ten points could be enough to progress," Allofs told uefa.com. "We all thought we could achieve that task, but I must admit beating Valencia twice came as a slight surprise."
A 2-0 win in Valencia on Matchday 6 ensured Bremen's place in the last 16, and for Allofs that match was an indication of just how far the German champions had progressed since kicking off their campaign with a 2-0 loss at Inter. "Can you remember the first game in Milan? We were all over the place," he said. "The players have developed with every game."
The 48-year-old expects Bremen's progress to continue when they face Olympique Lyonnais in the first knockout round at the Weserstadion tonight, a tie Allofs has an added interest in. "I spent three years in France with Olympique de Marseille and [FC] Girondins [de] Bordeaux and had a great time, so I really enjoy games against French clubs," he said.
Bremen will also draw strength from their last meeting with Lyon, in the third round of the 1999/00 UEFA Cup. The German team lost the first leg 3-0 in Lyon, but scored four unanswered goals at home to eliminate the French visitors on aggregate. Allofs, for one, is well aware that Lyon are still smarting from the 'Wunder von der Weser' (the Wonder of the Weser).
"We see the Lyon officials regularly and that match is always talked about - they cannot forget," Allofs said. "It's something that can work in our favour." Lyon goalkeeper Grégory Coupet disagrees, but the Ligue 1 champions' sole survivor from that night urges caution all the same.
"They're a typical German side with fantastic spirit," he said. "In 1999 we were over-confident ahead of the second leg, but German teams never give up until a tie is completely over." Proof of that never-say-die approach came in a pre-season friendly last summer when history was almost repeated. Coupet conceded three goals as Bremen fought back from 3-0 down, only this time Lyon held on for a draw.
Lyon sporting director Bernard Lacombe was also there in 1999 and is keen to stress that things have changed. "Werder bring back bad memories for me," he said, "but the teams have changed a lot since." For Bremen, those changes include the acquisitions of Johan Micoud and Valérien Ismaël, who are both looking forward to playing their compatriots.
"They will be extremely motivated for the match. It is quite natural for players to want to be at their best against a club from their native country," said Allofs, who played alongside coach Thomas Schaaf when Bremen beat another French outfit, AS Monaco FC, in the 1992 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup final.
"Then again," Allofs added, "they know exactly how good Lyon are and that it isn't going to be easy." Judging by the impressive start to their Champions League campaign, it looks like Bremen prefer doing it the hard way anyway.
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