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Despite their unflinching focus on domestic glory, Bayer 04 Leverkusen will be going all out for victory in their UEFA Champions League semi-final first leg against Manchester United FC.
Title a priority
The German club's coach Klaus Toppmöller has admitted that Leverkusen's attempt to land their first 1. Bundesliga title is a priority, but that will not get in the way of their trip to Old Trafford tonight.
"We think the title is a big thing for the club as not ever having won it hurts," said Toppmöller, whose side have a two-point lead over BV Borussia Dortmund after a 2-1 home defeat by SV Werder Bremen on Saturday and are also in the German DFB Pokal final. However, Toppmöller is only too aware that after reaching the last four of the Champions League for the first time, his side could end the campaign with a famous treble.
Fly the flag
"At the beginning of the campaign, I said we wanted to fly the flag for Germany and I believe that is something we can keep on doing," he added. "I think all the teams in the semi-finals can win the trophy - that is football. Look at the beginning, at those teams tipped for the top and how many are still standing. If it was not like this then football would be boring."
Leverkusen have beaten two other English opponents, Arsenal FC and then Liverpool FC in a thrilling quarter-final, on their way to the semi-finals, but Toppmöller believes United will be a more difficult proposition. "In my view, Arsenal are a very creative team and Liverpool much more defensive and reliant on counterattack.
"Manchester United embody both of those attributes and have proved that they are the best team in England, so I expect this to be our toughest task yet. United may be the favourites, but my players are desperate to measure themselves against the best and I have great expectations."
While the German pacesetters have had considerable success against English teams this term, United had their own triumph against German opposition. Following two draws with FC Bayern München, they pipped their old rivals to first place in their second group stage table. Then, while United marched on past RC Deportivo La Coruña in the quarter-finals, Bayern were eliminated by Real Madrid CF.
Unlike Leverkusen, United's best chance of silverware would seem to be the Champions League. The English champions are behind Arsenal and Liverpool in the race for the FA Premiership title and failed to reach the FA Cup final. United manager Sir Alex Ferguson believes everything is geared towards his side emulating their 1999 success by reaching the 15 May final in his home city of Glasgow. "The atmosphere in the dressing room has been good," he said. "I can smell these things. I know when it's right and it's very right at the moment."
Keane still out
However Ferguson is keen to avoid complacency, especially as his side are without key men David Beckham and Roy Keane. There had been talk Keane would return for tonight's match after a quick recovery from a hamstring injury suffered in the quarter-final first leg against Deportivo, but his return has been delayed a week.
"Roy did a bit of training yesterday [Monday] and he has trained this morning," the manager told a news conference. "He won't play tomorrow, but hopefully he will be ready by next week. I am very surprised by the progress he has made. It's remarkable."
Experience could tell
Ferguson said he expected nerves to play a part, and believed his team would be able to capitalise on home advantage in the first leg and the fact many of his players had been in this situation before. "I hope our experience helps us. Once you have been there it's important and I expect my players to handle it well. It's a nervous occasion. A semi-final is a game that you don't want. You wish you could go straight to the final."
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