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With a clutch of first-teamers missing for Wednesday's UEFA Champions League visit of NK Dinamo Zagreb, Werder Bremen have been urged to "rise to the occasion" as they attempt to qualify for the group stage for the fourth successive campaign.
Bremen narrowly failed to reach the knockout phase last term having been drawn in a group including Chelsea FC and FC Barcelona, yet their concerns this time are not with their opponents but with a growing injury crisis affecting early-season preparations at the Weserstadion. Naldo, Patrick Owomoyela, Duško Tošić, Pierre Wome, Carlos Alberto, Frank Baumann and Torsten Frings all sat out Saturday's opening Bundesliga match, a 2-2 draw at VfL Bochum 1848.
To make matters worse, Germany midfielder Tim Borowski sustained ligament damage in the same game, ruling him out for several weeks, and coach Thomas Schaaf is also resigned to being without Clemens Fritz for the first leg due to a recurring stomach-muscle injury. "Obviously I would prefer to have the likes of Frings and Borowski on board, but other players now have to rise to the occasion," said sporting director Klaus Allofs. "There is no use complaining because we have to make the best of the situation."
Croatian champions Dinamo have overcome FK Khazar Lenkoran and NK Domžale to get this far, and are determined to advance past the third qualifying round for the first time since 1998/99, having fallen to Arsenal FC last season. "We're looking forward to this match – there's no bigger competition than the Champions League and it's a pleasure to be part of it," said coach Branko Ivanković. "Bremen are favourites but we're not going there for nothing – we're looking for the right result.
"We have a right to dream and no one can take that from us. We know they have an experienced team who are playing in a stronger league than ours, but there's no reason to fear them. They don't have our ambition or passion. It's not imperative for us to win either, so there is less pressure. It would be great to score in Germany as that would give us a good advantage for the second leg."
Ivanković must decide who will partner Tomislav Šokota, as Boško Balaban is nursing a knock to his left ankle which threatens his involvement on Wednesday. If the Croatia forward is unavailable, Marijo Mandžukić will start having made a terrific impression since joining from NK Zagreb this summer – the 21-year-old has scored four goals in as many games. "One goal could be decisive in this tie," he said. "Maybe an away goal could send us into the Champions League."
Allofs disagrees. "I'm convinced we'll qualify after these two matches," he said. "The Champions League is nothing new for our team any more. We are used to the pressure and can cope with it." Dinamo, who top Croatia's Prva Liga with maximum points from their four outings, host the second leg on 29 August.
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