Timo Hildebrand is glad to be back in the firing line as FC Schalke 04 host FC Viktoria Plzeň after admitting that he wondered whether he would "ever play again at the highest level".
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Timo Hildebrand hopes another good showing against FC Viktoria Plzeň can help him make a bid for a permanent starting place at FC Schalke 04, with the 32-year-old having fallen off the footballing radar in recent years.
Capped seven times by Germany, Hildebrand's career has been on pause since summer 2010, when he left TSG 1899 Hoffenheim. He spent a year on the bench at Sporting Clube de Portugal, then joined Schalke in mid-season as cover for injured goalkeeper Ralf Fährmann. Now, with 21-year-old first choice Lars Unnerstall also out of action with a shoulder injury, Hildebrand's time has come.
"We will see over the next few matches where I stand," said Hildebrand, who won the 2006/07 Bundesliga with VfB Stuttgart. "I want to put in a good performance. I was in a difficult place before I came to Schalke. You have one or two thoughts about whether you will ever play again at the highest level. Many places were taken, with young keepers making their way. I'm delighted to have the chance to play."
After a sole outing in the UEFA Europa League group stage (saving a penalty), Hildebrand made his first Bundesliga appearance for Schalke on Sunday, replacing Unnerstall at half-time in the 4-0 win against VfL Wolfsburg. "When I heard I was coming on, I had to visit the toilet immediately," he said. "After such a long time you feel a lot of tension."
Despite this, he has plenty of experience – "preparing for a match is always different when you know you're going to play" – but after last week's 1-1 first-leg draw in Pilsen, he has cause to be wary. "Plzeň are really dangerous from set pieces," he said. "They put us under a lot of pressure. Now we have a home game and a small advantage, but we cannot rest."
Coach Huub Stevens trusts his goalkeeper to handle the Czech champions, though the Dutchman stated: "When Timo came here, he was not capable of playing. He lacked match sharpness. With reserve fixtures and one European game, he has got it back. When we signed him, we told him that we would need him at some point. He has worked hard for this opportunity – we must not forget that."
Peer Kluge and Lewis Holtby miss out for Schalke, and Jermaine Jones faces a late fitness test, but their opponents will be missing captain Pavel Horváth. David Limberský will assume the armband, and feels Plzeň have it in them to cause an upset, even without Horváth. "I firmly believe we're capable of doing it without him," the defender said. "I have never been captain in a more important game in my life. Theoretically, a goal would suffice, but it will be very hard not to concede so I hope we score more than once."