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UEFA Cup showdown

Resolute Bayern target place in final

In the early 18th century, when Tsar Peter the First established a settlement at the delta of the Neva River on the Baltic Sea as the western bridgehead of his sprawling empire, St. Petersburg was billed as ‘the window on Europe’. Some 300 years later, Bayern aim to use St. Petersburg as the gateway to a first European final in seven seasons.

”It’s rare you have a chance to win a treble, so this really is an important match for the club,” declared general manager Uli Hoeneß ahead of the do-or-die UEFA Cup semi-final away to Zenit St. Petersburg on Thursday (Live in English from 6.15 pm on Web Radio). “It’s a one-off opportunity to feature in a European final for the first time in a long time,” agreed coach Ottmar Hitzfeld, “the team will go to the limit for this.”

Yearning for treble

The squad appeared determined and focused as they assembled at the airport in Munich for the Wednesday morning flight to the most northerly major city on the planet. “I’m pleased there’s a certain tension,” commented chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. “We already have two trophies, but we’re burning with desire for a third.”

”We’re going to Russia looking for a win. We believe completely in ourselves and we’re fired up,” promised Germany international Miroslav Klose. In normal circumstances, the odds would slightly favour the home team after last week’s 1-1 draw in Munich, but Hoeneß thought it was “50-50”, and Hitzfeld was even more optimistic. “60-40, because we have the better team,” the boss declared.

Toni as the trump card

Despite the fact that Zenit require only a scoreless draw to progress, the Munich party’s optimism may not be misplaced. On the one hand, Bayern have been impressive on their travels in the competition so far, remaining undefeated and scoring at least once in every away fixture, including an amazing ten in the last three. “We’re almost better away from home than in Munich,” Hitzfeld concluded.

And on the other hand, top scorer Luca Toni returns after sitting out the first leg with suspension. “Toni’s presence on the field is important to us, but also because he needs very few chances to score,” explained Hitzfeld. The Italian has ten in the UEFA Cup so far. “We’re definitely a better side with Luca,” Hoeneß agreed. By contrast, Zenit have lost three players to suspension, including Andrij Arshavin, “a world-class midfielder” according to Hitzfeld. “But we mustn’t relax just because Zenit are without a couple of players,” Klose admonished.

FCB at full strength

Bayern will field a full-strength line-up at the Petrovsky stadium, with the only absentees being Hamit Altintop (metatarsal fracture) and Willy Sagnol (club disciplinary suspension). “We’ll be assured and adventurous, and go for a goal or two,” the Bayern coach announced. Hitzfeld reckoned individual class would ultimately tell in this “unbelievably important game. But we can justfiably be confident.”

”I know Bayern Munich football club, and I know we turn up for the important matches,” Bastian Schweinsteiger declared. “We’re all really up for this match,” insisted Martin Demichelis, “if we win this semi-final, there’s no team capable of stopping us.”

Should the Bavarians win, or avoid defeat while scoring at least twice, Glasgow Rangers or AC Fiorentina would be Bayern’s opponents in the final at the City of Manchester stadium on 14 May. The UEFA Cup would be “the cream on the biscuit” Mark van Bommel said, using an easily-understandable Dutch idiom. It would also see Bayern return to the international top table with a flourish. If St Petersburg is the window on Europe, Ottmar Hitzfeld and his team have a glorious chance to throw it wide open on Thursday.