By Svend Frandsen
When Marco Bode and Dieter Eilts decided to retire following the 2002 FIFA World Cup and Thorsten Frings and Frank Rost left to pursue their careers elsewhere, most experts expected SV Werder Bremen to be among the relegation candidates for the 2002/03 1. Bundesliga season.
When the side from the north of Germany lost two out of their three opening matches this season to find themselves in a familiar position close to the bottom of the table, the critics looked set to be proved right. However the Bremen management reacted quickly to bring in French international Johan Micoud from Parma AC and, four matches and four wins later, Thomas Schaaf's side are only a point behind leaders FC Bayern München. They are hoping to continue their bright run of form against FC Metalurh Donetsk in the second leg of their first round UEFA Cup encounter at a sold-out Weser stadium on Thursday, with the scores tied at 2-2 after the first leg in Ukraine.
With Micoud's playmaking skills enjoying a free role just behind forwards Angelos Charisteas and Brazilian import Ailton, good times look to be in prospect for Bremen. Indeed Charisteas, who was purchased this summer from FC Aris Thessaloniki, has already formed a lethal partnership with Ailton which has been responsible for no less than ten goals this season.
A popular man
These successes have made coach Schaaf an even more popular man in Bremen. The 41-year-old also has past successes with the club to his credit; he came on as a substitute when Bremen won the 1992 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup final with a 2-0 win against AS Monaco FC, and took over as coach from Felix Magath in May 1999, leading the club to a German Cup triumph only four months later with a 6-5 penalty shoot-out win against Bayern.
Schaaf keeps his fight on the ground
In Schaaf, Bremen finally seem to have found a worthy successor to Otto Rehhagel, who led the side up from the 2. Bundesliga and to European glory and in whose footsteps Aad de Mos, Dixi Dörner, Wolfgang Sidka and Magath all found it so hard to follow. Nevertheless, despite the prospect of another bright era, Schaaf is keeping his feet on the ground: "We don't look at [emulating] Bayern or someone else," he said. "We only think from game to game and concentrate on ourselves. First, we have to pass the opening round of the UEFA Cup, then we will see, what we can achieve in the domestic league."
Six players out
Bremen's UEFA Cup hopes have been helped by the news that Metalurh have lost six players ahead of the second leg. Serhiy Shyschenko, Yevhen Kotov and Vyacheslav Checher are injured while Georgian midfield player Gocha Jamarauli is in Tbilisi after the death of this father. Ivan Kryvosheyenko and Temur Ganiev are on Under-19 international duty with Ukraine and Uzbekistan respectively.
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