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Ottmar Hitzfeld, the FC Bayern München coach, is banking on Manchester United FC failing to beat Boavista FC in Portugal and giving his own team the chance to finish top of UEFA Champions League Group A. "We really want to make it to the top spot in our group," he said. "I am convinced Manchester will not gain a win in Porto."
The English and German champions both qualified for the next stage of the competition by virtue of their goalless draw at Old Trafford last week, but now they are disputing top place in order to avoid other group winners such as Real Madrid CF and, in all probability, RC Deportivo La Coruña in the quarter-finals.
Uli Hoeness, the former Bayern player and now a director at the club, believed that finishing top of their group last season gave the European champions an "enormous advantage" in the latter stages. Franz Beckenbauer, the club president, agreed with his former team-mate that the "odds were not bad" of overtaking United.
Keen as they may be to finish top, Bayern have taken the decision to rest one or two players for the game against bottom of the group FC Nantes Atlantique at the Olympiastadion. The German team could be without both their first-choice full-backs, one because of injury, the other by choice. The Frenchman Willy Sagnol is to undergo exploratory knee surgery in Marseille on Wednesday while Bixente Lizarazu may be stood down in favour of Michael Tarnat.
In attack, pairing up with Claudio Pizarro will be Giovane Elber. He will replace Roque Santa Cruz. "It's time now to ration our energy," said Hitzfeld. "Hungry players waiting outside will get their chances now."
The Bayern team, however, may not be that much weaker than in previous games because it is expected that long-term absentees, such as Mehmet Scholl and Hasan Salihamidzic could be back in the squad for the game against Nantes. The latter has been out for four months with a torn cruciate ligament while Scholl has suffered from a torn muscle. Alexander Zickler, who made a brief reappearance in the goalless draw at Old Trafford last week, is doubtful but nevertheless is training while Carsten Jancker tore a tendon in his foot last week and is definitely out.
Bayern are unbeaten in 17 games in the competition. Their last defeat, coincidentally, was against another French club, Olympique Lyonnais, who defeated them 3-0 in Lyon in the second group stage last season. In fact, both the defeats they suffered in last season's competition were against French clubs; Paris Saint-Germain FC beat them in the first group stage.
Loss of form
Nantes' campaign, however, has coincided with a loss of form in the French league and they have only their pride to play for in Munich.
Only twice have Bayern ever lost at home in the competition, in 38 games, the last occasion coming four seasons ago against IFK Gotebörg. Nantes are in no fit state to repeat their startling 3-1 win away to S.S. Lazio earlier in the competition and, besides, have their mind more on avoiding relegation from Le Championnat. They have a crucial game at home against Stade Rennais FC on Saturday.
As a result, goalkeeper Mickaël Landreau and defender Mario Yepes are staying home in France in readiness for it, as is Frédéric da Rocha whose wife is expecting a baby. Eric Djemba Djemba is suspended while Olivier Quint, Pierre-Yves André and Viorel Moldovan all have minor knocks and will not play against Bayern.
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