Created on 23-04-2008 at 00:00 AM
Only a calamity can prevent Bayern winning the Bundesliga, and the DFB Cup is already in the trophy cabinet, but the Bavarians will have a triple in their sights when they take on Zenit St. Petersburg for a place in the UEFA Cup final, starting with the semi-final first leg at the Allianz Arena on Thursday evening (Live in English from 8.30 pm on FCB.tv Web Radio). “We have a good chance of winning the UEFA Cup too,” commented Franck Ribéry, although the France star was quick to add a rider: “We know very well it won’t be easy.“
The attendance at the pre-match news conference underlined the significance of the fixture. Some 14 camera crews and 50 reporters, a third of them from Russia, filled the press centre at the Säbener Strasse to capacity. “You know it’s a big game when so many people show up,” said Ottmar Hitzfeld, looking forward to the “special experience“ of the meeting with the Russian champions. Bayern last made the last four in a European competition back in 2001, when the opposition was provided by Real Madrid.
Dangerous on the break
Zenit rate as little-known in Germany, but Bayern are highly conscious of the threat posed by Dick Advocaat’s men, who brushed aside the Reds’ Bundesliga rivals Bayer 04 Leverkusen in the UEFA Cup last eight. In particular, Zenit’s 4-1 victory in the away leg prompted many in the game to sit up and take notice.
“They’re a technically strong team who play extremely well and at high pace on the break,” observed Hitzfeld, describing Zenit as “definitely a leading European team. St. Petersburg are undoubtedly our strongest opponents in the competition so far. They have some world-class players.“
Ribéry’s revenge mission
The Russians’ proven counter-attacking skill means Bayern face a delicate balancing act. The Bundesliga champions-elect want to win the match and carve out a good position for next week’s return, but must also avoid conceding a goal if at all possible. “We’ll have to concentrate to the utmost and not let them hit us on the break,” Hitzfeld summarised.
Ribéry’s pre-match comments also focused on defending. “We’ll need to be well-organised. We need to concentrate, keep it tight, and defend our own goal, although we intend to attack as well,” the midfielder declared, mindful of a personal defeat to Zenit with Olympique Marseille in a UEFA Cup Round of 32 clash in 2005-6. The Russians won 2-1 on aggregate, and Ribery was sent off for two bookable offences in the first leg. Franck is keen to exact revenge this time around.
”1-0 or 2-0 would be a very good result,” Hitzfeld insisted ahead of the showdown in front of a full house at the Allianz Arena. Reflecting Zenit’s known strength, the Bayern boss said his line-up would not be over-adventurous. “We’re capable of winning away from home too, so we don’t need to take too many risks tomorrow,” he pointed out. “Winning would be good, and winning without conceding would be wonderful,“ Karl-Heinz Rummenigge exclusively told fcbayern.de.
Bayern face selection problems in the attacking department. Leading scorer Luca Toni is suspended, while Miroslav Klose (inflamed foot) is still receiving treatment, “and in his case, it’ll be a question of hours,” Hitzfeld reported. The Germany international trained on Wednesday but faces a fitness test on the day of the game. “We’ll do whatever we can to get him fit,” Hitzfeld said, “if Luca Toni was able to play, we’d rest Miro.“
Coping with Toni’s absence
The Bayern coach played down the loss of Toni. “We’ve been missing a few big-name players at times this season, and we’ve always compensated,” he recalled. “Obviously it’s hard when the best goalscorer in the team can’t play in a match you have to win,” Ribéry observed, “but Podolski and Klose will do their best to cover for him.“ Provided Klose can play, of course.