German fans are warming to Hugo Almeida who tonight faces several old team-mates in Werder Bremen's UEFA Cup Round of 32 tie against SC Braga.
German fans are warming to Hugo Almeida who tonight faces several old team-mates in Werder Bremen's UEFA Cup Round of 32 tie against SC Braga at the Weserstadion.
The Portuguese visitors will be able to see just how far Almeida has travelled since moving to the Bundesliga, initially on loan from FC Porto, in the summer of 2006. Bremen are reputed to have an eye for a bargain, and when the young Portugal striker scored on each of his first two appearances, as a substitute, it seemed they had got it right again.
At the time Almeida, who had made only six Liga starts among 34 career outings for Porto, said: "The last few weeks have been a dream." Bremen's sporting director Klaus Allofs added: "It is important to start scoring straight away as a forward in a new team." The early momentum was not to continue. Although the tall, battering-ram striker played 28 league games in 2006/07, he ended the campaign with just five goals.
He also failed to score in the UEFA Champions League, yet four goals in the UEFA Cup, as Bremen reached the semi-finals, earned Almeida the nickname 'Euro Hugo' and helped convince the club to make his signing permanent. "We think he has great potential," explained Allofs. "He will have a bright future here at Bremen."
Almeida himself needed little convincing of the benefits of the move, saying: "I want to stay with Bremen because I like the club and how things are done here. I also feel people believe in me." That faith, in a player whom Porto had also loaned to UD Leiria and Boavista FC, is clearly working wonders for his confidence. A more regular starter than in his first season, he has registered seven goals in 13 Bundesliga matches.
'A bitter blow'
With all those strikes coming at the Weserstadion, Almeida's nickname has been upgraded to 'Home-match Hugo' and his status in the squad has risen too. When he sustained an injury on international duty, coach Thomas Schaaf called it "tragic": "He is a unique attacker in our squad, very powerful, very strong in the air. His injury is a bitter blow for us."
Man to watch
Now back on his feet, Almeida will be eager to add to the three goals he scored in the UEFA Champions League – again all at home – including one in qualifying against NK Dinamo Zagreb. The only pity for Almeida is that his countrymen Braga may be on the receiving end in tonight's first-leg tie, given his ability to find the net in Europe and his happy knack at the Weserstadion.