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By Mark Bennett
Having conceded seven goals in their last UEFA Champions League outing, Werder Bremen will be hoping for a vast improvement in their fortunes against FC Basel 1893 tonight after signing four new defenders during the summer.
Bremen's previous appearance in Europe's premier club competition was memorable for all the wrong reasons. After overcoming Valencia CF and RSC Anderlecht in the group stage to reach the Round of 16, Bremen came up against Olympique Lyonnais and over the two legs conceded ten goals, including a resounding 7-2 defeat in the return match in France.
However, Bremen will be seeking to restore their pride after leapfrogging VfB Stuttgart and Hertha BSC Berlin on the final day of the 2004/05 Bundesliga campaign to earn the league's final Champions League berth. They must first negotiate a third qualifying round encounter against Switzerland's finest and Bremen general manager Klaus Allofs is brimming with confidence.
"We like to consider ourselves as one of the best teams in the Bundesliga and, with no disrespect to Basel, we have to win the match to live up to our own expectations," said Allofs. Bremen will hope that their new-look back line have gelled in time, after the departure of all but one of the defenders involved in that hapless evening in Lyon, with Ludovic Magnin, Paul Stalteri and Valérien Ismaël moving to pastures new.
Danish Under-21 international Leon Andreasen became the first of four replacement signings when he joined from AGF Århus, and he was followed by German right-back Patrick Owomoyela and Belgian left-back Jelle Van Damme before the club agreed terms with EC Juventude for Brazilian centre-back Naldo, who completed the overhaul and is already looking settled.
"We are very pleased with Naldo," said coach Thomas Schaff. "His tactical understanding on the field is excellent and he also tries to communicate with his team-mates despite the language barrier." The 22-year-old made his debut as Bremen defeated DSC Arminia Bielefeld 5-2 in their Bundesliga opener on Saturday, while the other new signings had to watch on.
Petri Pasanen partnered Naldo in the centre, while Ümit Davala, fit again after an injury-plagued 2004/05 campaign, and German international Christian Schulz defended the flanks. However, Van Damme did make a second-half substitute appearance as did Owomoyela, who came back for pre-season later than others after playing in the FIFA Confederations Cup. Andreasen missed out.
Nevertheless, all three are eager to break into the starting lineup and this fills Allofs with optimism. "
I think the team is better than the side of last season. We have got more strength in depth."
And while Bremen are flushed in the defensive department, Basel coach Christian Gross is struggling. Murat Yakin (thigh), Patrick Müller (lacking match fitness) and Bruno Berner are all ruled out, while forward Cesar Carignano (knee) is also absent - meaning the Swiss champions could have their work cut out if they are to avoid a repeat of last season when a 5-2 defeat by FC Internazionale Milano ended their hopes at the same stage.
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