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First step on the road

FCB eye positive start to European campaign

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Some five months after exiting last season’s Champions League to Barcelona at the quarter-final stage, the reformed Bayern squad set out on Monday afternoon for the first act in this term’s European adventure. One 2,600 km flight later, the FCB party alighted in Tel Aviv, venue for their Group A opener against Maccabi Haifa on Tuesday (Live in English from 8.30 pm on Web Radio).

“It’s important we get off the blocks well. It would boost our confidence and belief,” said Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, urging the team to play for a win. An air temperature of 30 degrees and clear blue skies greeted the plane from Munich on its arrival in Israel after three hours in the air. The party failed to include injured trio Mark van Bommel, Martin Demichelis and Andreas Görlitz, and strike pair Luca Toni and Miroslav Klose, both currently on rehab training programmes.

Despite the absence of a clutch of big names, Bayern are determined to collect all three points against the men from Haifa. The 5-1 thrashing of Dortmund and 3-0 home win over Wolfsburg a week before indicate much-improved form at FCB, nicely in time for the start of Europe’s elite club competition. “This is the Bayern Munich we want,” club chairman Rummenigge commented, “it would be nice if we could maintain the current course.”

Taking nothing for granted

However, amidst a welter of positive media reports, Rummenigge warned the players not to get carried away. “Euphoria is counterproductive in football,” he said, repeating his call for three points off the Israeli champions. “We definitel need a good start,” admonished Rummenigge, wary of the challenge posed by the remaining clubs in the section, Girondins Bordeaux and Juventus. “Our opponents are all leading their leagues. We can’t just assume we’ll survive the group.”

Franz Beckenbauer feels FCB have landed in “one of the toughest groups. Even Haifa are a very good team,” he mused. Nevertheless, the members’ club president believes Bayern will reach the Round of 16: “Anything other than first or second in the group would be a huge disappointment,” Beckenbauer observed.

Step-by-step approach

Last term, Bayern produced one of their most impressive-ever group stage performances, qualifying for the last sixteen as winners. “It would be great if we could do it again,” said Rummenigge, who has not set any target for this term beyond reaching the Round of 16. “We’ll try and give a good account of ourselves, but there are teams who are much bigger favourites than us,” he opined, “the best approach for us is to take it step by step.”

Bayern are hoping to take the first of those steps in Tel Aviv on Tuesday evening. “We want to hit the ground running and start by taking three points,” said Thomas Müller. Germany’s most successful club previously visited the Ramat Gan stadium in Tel Aviv on 15 September 2004, precisely five years ago. That trip ended in success, as Munich opened their Champions League campaign with a 1-0 over Maccabi Tel Aviv. Tuesday’s venue is the same, and Bayern would happily settle for the same score, albeit against different opposition.