FC Bayern München return to the UEFA Cup for the first time in eleven years on Thursday looking for some consolation after missing out on the UEFA Champions League.
The 2006/07 season was a disappointing one for the club, with Ottmar Hitzfeld's returning midway through the campaign to replace Felix Magath, but failing to earn the top-three finish necessary to earn his side a place in Europe's top club competition. With €67m worth of new signings since the summer, they will now look to take out their frustrations on the UEFA Cup.
Bayern last appeared in the competition in the 1996/97, having won the trophy in the previous campaign, and go into the home leg of their tie against Portugal's CF Os Belenenses already being tipped to win the crown. They also started the season as favourites to win the German title, but as recent results have shown, they are not yet invincible as they initially seemed.
Successive 1-1 Bundesliga draws against Hamburger SV and FC Schalke 04 have calmed the atmosphere around Hitzfeld's side, who had scored ten goals without reply in winning their opening three games. "I have said from the beginning that we are not on course to run away with title," said the veteran coach. "The league is too strong for that."
With the Schalke draw coming on the eve of the UEFA Cup opener, goalkeeper Oliver Kahn felt relieved that the big bubble of expectation surrounding his side had been deflated a little. He said: "I think it is not too bad that we didn't win against Schalke - this will stop the euphoria. We can now focus on the next game and start winning again."
New signings Franck Ribéry, Miroslav Klose and Luca Toni have made Bayern look fearsome this season, with the Frenchman capturing the imagination of the German public while Klose is back on song after struggling at the end of last season with Werder Bremen. Hitzfeld said of him: "He has matured a lot lately. He is now a player who speaks up during half-time or before the match."
Midfielder José Ernesto Sosa and defender Philipp Lahm will both miss Bayern's opener through injury, but Mark van Bommel, Lucio and Christian Lell are expected to recover in time. Belenenses, meanwhile, are looking forward to their early chance to test the competition's giants, with president Cabral Ferreira asking: "What better challenge could we have?"
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