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Bayern prepare for tough test at Pittodrie

With the group stage done and dusted, only one team can progress from each UEFA Cup tie from now on, but Bayern feel they are up to the task of overcoming Aberdeen in the Round of 32 first leg tie on Thursday evening, even in the absence of skipper Olli Kahn. “This is where it really starts,” declared Philipp Lahm before the away fixture against the men from the east of Scotland.

Kahn was taken ill with a high fever and was sent home immediately after the Bayern party’s arrival in Aberdeen, but Bayern remain confident of eliminating the Dons and continuing their push for a place in the final. “We set out aiming to win every competition we enter,” declared coach Ottmar Hitzfeld from the Marcliffe Hotel team base on Wednesday afternoon.

Immense effort required

The Munich squad arrived in Aberdeen at half past midday local time under a cloudless sky and with temperatures at a pleasant ten degrees, but Hitzfeld and his men know the meeting with the men from the north-eastern coast of Scotland will be anything but a pleasant springtime stroll. “We have to be prepared for a physical encounter,” general manager Uli Hoeneß remarked even before the team departed Bavaria in the morning.

Aberdeen favour a typically British game with its customary attributes, including total commitment from the first to the last minute, robust tackling and a route one tactical orientation. “It’ll be a fight for every inch of ground. Aberdeen will come at us. We need to make our tackles and go to the limit,” Hitzfeld urged.

Unhappy memories of Aberdeen

Hitzfeld’s warning may be based on a previous Bayern generation’s unhappy experience of the Dons some 25 years ago, when Aberdeen eliminated FCB in the Cup Winners’ Cup quarter-finals. Today’s stars have arrived in Scotland with plenty of respect for their opponents. “We’re not going to make the mistake of underestimating them,” promised comeback man Marcell Jansen. The Germany international returns to the matchday squad after a three-month injury lay-off.

However, the clubs find themselves in very different circumstances compared to a quarter of a century ago. Under a young Alex Ferguson, Aberdeen blossomed in the early 80s and won the Cup Winners’ Cup, the greatest triumph in the club’s long history. The Dons have barely featured on the European stage since then, and have been eclipsed domestically by Glasgow giants Celtic and Rangers. A poor recent run of form included a 5-1 home defeat to Celtic at the weekend and a 4-1 reverse against Dundee in the League Cup.

Lell and Ottl to start

The Scots will be utterly determined to atone for those results in front of the Pittodrie faithful. “But they’re on the ropes and unsettled, and we should try and exploit that. We want to impose our tactics on the match,” Hitzfeld reasoned. Apart from Kahn, the Bayern boss is also without Franck Ribéry, Mark van Bommel and Willy Sagnol. Bastian Schweinsteiger will again deputise for Ribery, who also missed Sunday’s Bundesliga draw with Bremen, while Christian Lell and Andreas Ottl are set to stand in for the Dutch enforcer and the France right-back.

Despite the star absentees, Bayern regard themselves as clear favourites going into the tie. “We have 22 men in our squad. Losing two of them shouldn’t affect the quality in the team,” argued Hoeneß. “We’re Bayern Munich. We’re going there looking to win,” Hitzfeld declared, although FCB would also accept a good platform for the return at the Allianz Arena in a week’s time. “A draw would be OK, winning would be great,” Hoeneß confirmed. Schweinsteiger for one is exuding confidence: “In normal circumstances, we’ll make it to the next round.“

Matchday squad: Lucio, Demichelis, Altintop, Toni, Podolski, Zé Roberto, Ottl, Klose, Schlaudraff, Sosa, Lahm, Jansen, Rensing, Dreher, Lell, Schweinsteiger, Breno, Kroos, Kraft

Unavailable: Ribéry (strain), Kahn (flu), Van Bommel (knee), Sagnol (rested), Van Buyten (fitness)

Referee: Eduardo Iturralde González (ESP)

Previous meeting: Aberdeen 3 Bayern 2 (1982-3)