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By Tim Pfeifer
Already eliminated from this season's UEFA Champions League, FC Bayern München coach Ottmar Hitzfeld has appealed to his players' sense of honour before the Matchday Six encounter with French side RC Lens on Wednesday.
Test of character
"All the players who haven't played in recent matches will come into the frame," he said. "Then we will see who we can count on in the future. This is a question of character and honour." Hitzfeld wants Bayern to bow out of this season's European campaign with "decency and a victory".
However, the German Bundesliga leaders, stranded at the bottom of Group G, enter the game with injury problems. Zé Roberto, Willy Sagnol, Niko Kovac Michael Tarnat and Samuel Kuffour are all missing while Giovane Elber is due to be rested. Michael Ballack, meanwhile, is a serious doubt due to a heel problem and Owen Hargreaves is expected to miss out with a calf injury. On the plus side Mehmet Scholl has recovered from a groin injury and is fit to play.
Only 20,000 spectators are expected at the Olympiastadion to watch Bayern's premature exit from Europe. After taking just one point from five games it is hardly surprising players and officials are still smarting. Ballack has said Bayern "will get angry about being eliminated for the rest of the season", while the club's president, Franz Beckenbauer, said: "All the teams of distinction are playing in the second group phase, except for us. It will hurt just to sit in front of the television."
'Most important match'
Beckenbauer could yet be watching Lens in the second group stage. If the 'Sang et Or' win in Munich and second-placed RC Deportivo La Coruña fail to beat AC Milan at the San Siro, then Joël Muller's side will qualify for the next round. "Everyone in our team knows what it's about. This is one of the most important matches of the season," Muller said. "When we started in this year's Champions League, nobody thought that on the final matchday we would have the chance to qualify for the next round."
The Lens coach has asked his team for "full concentration" while defender Rigobert Song admitted it was "now or never". Song for one expects a difficult night, regardless of Bayern's injury list. "No matter which team they send out, Bayern always give their best," the Cameroonian international said. Muller added: "We do not think about our opponent but only about ourselves. It's just up to us to give a solid performance."
Win or lose, Lens president Gervais Martel believes his players have done the club proud. "The only thing that can happen to us is a big surprise," he said. "In a few weeks we have changed from being misfits in the Champions League to becoming the great hope of French football. This is something I'm really proud of, no matter what happens in Munich."
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