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By Andreas Alf
FC Bayern München's prospects of winning a second UEFA Champions League title in three years face a serious test straight away with the visit of RC Deportivo La Coruña to the Olympiastadion.
'We have to win'
Bayern meet Deportivo in their Group G opener on Wednesday night insisting that nothing but three points matter. Goalkeeper Oliver Kahn said: "We have to win this first match against strong opponents to send a message to our competitors." It is not just the 2001 European champions who see it this way - after successive quarter-final appearances in the last two seasons, Deportivo travel to Bavaria with no sense of inferiority.
Both sides are presently undermined by injuries. Sebastian Deisler, Mehmet Scholl and Roque Santa Cruz are all long-term absentees for Bayern and French international Bixente Lizarazu joined them on the treatment table last week after damaging his right knee in the match against TSV 1860 München. Bayern confirmed today the player would not return until the second half of October and, to make matters worse, Michael Ballack may miss out too due to an ankle problem, although Bayern will not make a decision until the day of the match.
'Serious injury problems'
As for Deportivo, striker Diego Tristán is in Barcelona for tests on an ankle problem and also absent are goalkeeper José Molina, defenders César Martín, Goran Djorovic and Jorge Andrade, and forward José Amavisca. Lionel Scaloni and Aldo Duscher, meanwhile, are suspended and Pablo Amo ineligible for the Champions League. "We have only had two matches in our domestic league so far and our injury problems are very serious," said coach Javier Irureta, whose side warmed up by beating Club Atlético Osasuna 2-1 at the weekend. "But on the other hand, if Ballack does not play, this disadvantage is levelled out."
'We have a dream'
Bayern coach Ottmar Hitzfeld disagrees. 'Der General' believes Bayern have many options besides Ballack, among them Brazilian striker Giovane Elber, who has started the new season with six goals. "We have a dream to win the Champions League again," said Elber. "And we are a big team who can fulfil this dream. From the first minute of the first match, we have to prove we're in charge."
Statistics favour Bayern
With or without Ballack, the statistics, at least, favour Bayern who have won seven of eight games played so far this season. The four-times European champions are undefeated in 12 Champions League matches at home to Spanish teams and enter this game on the back of a 29-match unbeaten run at the Olimpiastadion. On top of that, Bayern new boys Ballack and Zé Roberto led Bayer 04 Leverkusen to two victories over Deportivo last term. The Spanish side will be desperate to avoid a case of déjà vu.
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