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'We'll need to work hard’

In-form Braga bar Bayern’s path in Europe

Braga in north-west Portugal is a city imbued with religious devotion. Every day, hordes of pilgrims ascend the 500 steps leading to the shrine of Bom Jesus do Monte on Holy Mountain, some of them even covering the whole distance on their knees. In another way altogether, Bayern’s UEFA Cup tie away to SC Braga on Thursday evening (Live in English from 8.45 pm on FCB.tv Web Radio) promises to be a stern and demanding challenge. “We can’t just turn up and expect to win,” cautioned Miroslav Klose, “we’ll need to work hard for the three points.“

After what the striker termed the “frustrating” 2-2 home draw with Bolton Wanderers in their previous group fixture, Bayern find themselves more in need of the points in Braga than might once have been expected. A win would see the Reds safely through to the knockout phase, and would also cement their hold on top spot with one match remaining. “Our aim is to remain top of the standings,” confirmed chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge before boarding the plane to Portugal.

Points for Germany’s UEFA coefficient

Winning the group would help in two ways: Bayern would avoid one of the clubs entering the UEFA Cup Round of 32 from the Champions League, and would play the second leg of their knockout tie at home. “It’s worth going for first place,” advised Rummenigge, also mentioning UEFA’s five-year ranking coefficient. “Germany are sixth and Portugal seventh. We need to stay ahead of the Portuguese,” he urged.

The players will be focused on the shorter-term goal of sealing a berth in the knockout round. “We can wrap it up tomorrow, and that’s enough of a motivating factor,” said Philipp Lahm before the flight to Porto and pleasant air temperatures of 18 degrees Celsius. “It helps that we know a win puts us through,” Klose agreed.

Braga similar to Belenenses

A win, regardless of how it is achieved, is all that matters for Bayern on their second trip to Portugal this term. “1-0 or 4-0 – the points are all that count,” insisted Klose, recalling the tough eliminator against Belenenses of Lisbon two months ago. “I’d be happy enough with a 2-1 win and the three points,” coach Ottmar Hitzfeld agreed.

Braga are likely to pose a test similar to Belenenses’ stubborn resistance. “Braga are like Belenenses, well organised at the back and with an extremely dangerous three-man forward line,” commented Hitzfeld, warning his troops to keep a weather eye on Braga’s Austrian hitman Roland Linz, playmaker Jorginho and the skilful Wender. “We need to be completely on our guard and not let them get going.“

Confident but respectful

Braga lie seventh in the Portuguese top flight but downed Champions League contenders Sporting Lisbon 3-0 a fortnight ago. The presence of new coach Manuel Machado for only his second game in charge is also likely to inspire the home team. “We can’t imagine we’ll just turn up and blow away a team like this,” remarked Rummenigge, “I know little about them, but they’ve qualified for the UEFA Cup from the strong Portuguese first division.“

Nevertheless, Bayern will relish their role as favourites against Sporting Clube de Braga at the spectacular stadium hewn into the rock overlooking the city. “We’ll try and impose our philosophy on the game,” Hitzfeld promised. “I want my team to play adventurous football based on a solid defensive platform.”

Van Buyten and Demichelis fit

There was positive selection news on the day before the match, as Daniel van Buyten (cold) and Martin Demichelis (calf) both reported fit. Demichelis, who has not completely shaken off his injury, may well be rested in Braga, allowing Van Buyten to form the centre-back pairing with Lucio, eligible in Europe despite a Bundesliga suspension. Whatever the line-up, Bayern will pursue maximum points in Braga. “We need to push on,“ Lahm declared.

Probable line-ups:

SC Braga: Paulo Santos - João Pereira, Rodríguez, Paulo Jorge, César Peixoto - Madrid, Brum - João Pinto, Jorginho, Wender - Linz

Bayern Munich: Kahn - Lell, Lucio, Van Buyten, Lahm - Altintop, Zé Roberto, Van Bommel, Ribéry - Klose, Toni

Referee: Jonas Eriksson (Sweden)