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By Mark Chaplin in Brussels
RSC Anderlecht's mission to re-establish themselves among European football's top order this season reaches the point of no return on Wednesday when German champions SV Werder Bremen visit the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium.
Mountain to climb
Pointless after defeats at Valencia and at home to FC Internazionale Milano, the men from Brussels have a mountain to climb if they are to glean anything from a UEFA Champions League campaign that began with such optimism. In contrast, Bremen's chances of proceeding to the knockout stages remain intact after a fine comeback to edge out Valencia 2-1 at the Weserstadion last month, following an opening defeat at Inter.
Anderlecht have no option but to go all out for the three points to reignite their campaign - and at least climb off the bottom of the section. "
We're going to try and secure third place in the group and a UEFA Cup place. That means we have to win our remaining two home games," said forward Mbo Mpenza.
"I think it is fair that we have to aim for third place now," said a pragmatic Hugo Broos after the Inter defeat. President Roger Vanden Stock admitted in the Belgian press this week that while Anderlecht were doing their utmost to rekindle their European glory days of the 1970s and early 80s, the gap between them and the modern-day big guns was turning into a huge chasm.
Coach Broos faces Bremen with a number of players struggling with injury. "Whoever is more or less fit is in the squad," said Broos, whose side's laborious 1-0 win over neighbours FC Molenbeek Brussels Strombeek on Friday kept them two points behind Belgian league leaders Club Brugge KV.
Anderlecht welcomed veteran Yves Vanderhaeghe back on Friday after an eight-month absence and handed a debut to Fabrice Ehret. The French midfield player has taken time to settle in Brussels because of injury, but could be called on to play a key left-flank role against Bremen. Broos was cagey about his tactics, but may pair the tricky Aruna Dindane and Mbo Mpenza up front in a 3-5-2 formation.
Meanwhile, Bremen travel to Brussels smarting from a 2-1 Bundesliga setback against newly promoted 1. FSV Mainz 05 - a result that left them in fifth place in the league, eight points behind leaders VfB Stuttgart. Coach Thomas Schaaf has a long injured list to contend with. Midfield player Tim Borowski tore a ligament in his left foot against Mainz, and joins Gustavo Nery, Ümit Davala, Daniel Jensen, Frank Fahrenhorst and Krisztián Lisztes on the treatment table.
"Moaning won't help us," said Schaaf, who has been defending his players from criticism after the Mainz setback. "
We win together and lose together," was the coach's reaction. The main priority now is to consolidate in the Champions League, after the Valencia victory that put Bremen's European campaign back on track.
Schaaf is examining a series of options as he looks to replace Borowski. Fabien Ernst may take up the right-sided midfield role, and Christian Schulz could feature on the left of defence with Swiss international Ludovic Magnin assuming an advanced role. Up front, it is uncertain whether Angelos Charisteas will be fit to partner Miroslav Klose after he withdrew from Tuesday's training session with a back problem.
A sell-out 22,000 crowd - including some 2,000 Bremen fans - will provide the atmosphere as Anderlecht battle to save their Champions League skins. For Bremen, meanwhile, victory would put the knockout phase clearly in sight.
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