Thomas Hitzlsperger has called on his VfB Stuttgart side to show they "belong" in the UEFA Champions League as they look to make up for a disappointing showing in the competition two years ago.
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The need for improvement dominated discussions in the VfB Stuttgart camp ahead of their UEFA Champions League Group G opener against Rangers FC.
On their previous UEFA Champions League campaign two years ago Die Roten collected a mere three points against FC Barcelona, Olympique Lyonnais and Wednesday's opponents Rangers in the group stage. They all came from a 3-2 home win against the Scottish side, their other five games ending in defeat. With that in mind, Stuttgart are targeting significant improvements. "This time we want to qualify for the knockout stages," said captain Thomas Hitzlsperger. "The Champions League is the place to be and we belong here."
Stuttgart's recent Bundesliga form does not augur too well, however. Markus Babbel's team are 12th after five matches and Saturday's 3-1 loss at leaders Hamburger SV left them without a win in three. Hitzlsperger called for focus. "We mustn't keep thinking about what has happened or what will happen if we don't win this game either. The Hamburg result was disappointing and we have talked a lot about it, but that is the normal reaction whether we win or lose. Obviously our position in the Bundesliga doesn't please us."
The Germany midfielder knows his way around British football having made 99 Premier League appearances for Aston Villa FC from 2001 until joining Stuttgart in 2005, and he believes he knows what to expect from Rangers. "They play typical British football; they are very physical and dangerous at dead-ball situations," he said. "They will offer great resistance, but we are well prepared."
English and Spanish clubs have dominated the UEFA Champions League in recent years, but Hitzlsperger sees hope for German clubs. "We can prove ourselves by progressing to the next round," the 27-year-old said. "This would show we have narrowed the gap to the English and Spanish clubs. The Champions League is just beginning and we are full of optimism. We have to concentrate on the match in hand and I believe the fans are looking forward to it as much as we are."