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'A huge opportunity'

FCB aim to seal berth in last sixteen

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The city of Plzen is looking pretty spruce right now. On the one hand, the home of the famous pilsner beer, goalkeeper Petr Čech and popular crooner Karel Gott is preparing to be a European City of Culture in 2015. And on the other hand, Champions League holders FC Bayern have been in town since Monday. The German champions face Viktoria Plzen on Tuesday evening (live in English from 8.45 pm CET on free Web Radio) and are utterly determined to seal their place in this season’s knockout round.

“We have a huge opportunity to qualify with games to spare. That’s what we’ll try and do,” declared chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge prior to the 40 minute flight from Munich to Prague, where the Lufthansa charter jet landed at exactly midday. After that, Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Co made the 80 km bus transfer to Plzen itself; at just 222 kilometres, it is the shortest Champions League away trip in club history.

Call for full concentration

No-one connected with the treble winners thinks Tuesday’s match will simply take care of itself. “It just won’t be as easy as it might look,” warned Uli Hoeneß, pointing to the Czech champions’ 6-1 victory over FK Jablonec. “They’re obviously in good form.” Pep Guardiola also expressed “a lot of respect. Plzen played very well at the weekend.” And Franck Ribéry, scorer of two goals in the convincing 5-0 victory in the first meeting two weeks ago added another note of warning: “We mustn’t start thinking we’ve already won 3-0. We have to concentrate fully on the match, and if we do, it won’t be a problem.“

Memories of the gala performance at the Allianz Arena are naturally still fresh, “because we had an extremely good day,” recalled Hoeneß, and it was “a clear-cut victory,” added Rummenigge. However, the senior figures said, no-one at FCB should start assuming the points are already in the bag. “We must treat our opponents with respect and not arrogance,” insisted the chairman. “I hope the team does as good a job as they have done in the three games so far.”

Round of 16 beckons

Guardiola’s squad is unchanged from Saturday’s meeting with Hoffenheim where Bayern equalled the Bundesliga record of 36 consecutive games without defeat. That means Arjen Robben is still sidelined with injury. “He’s a great deal better, but he’s not yet fit,” reported Guardiola, expressing hope that Robben might be a contender to face Augsburg next Saturday: “He’s an important player.” Whoever ends up representing Munich on Tuesday night, Guardiola said it was “a huge opportunity to reach the next stage.”

The freshly-crowned Austrian sports personality of the year agreed that it is unlikely to be a straightforward job against the Czechs. “They’re at home and have their fans behind them, and that’s never easy,” stated David Alaba. Schweinsteiger agreed with his team-mate: “We have to be prepared for the crowd to play an important role.” The vice-captain reckons Plzen will “give it a really good go. This is a big and very special match for the club.”

The key to success in front of an 11,700 full house at Štruncovy Sady Stadión could well be to avoid conceding the first goal, thus dampening the atmosphere in what will otherwise be a seething cauldron of noise. Bayern fell behind in each of their recent matches against Mainz, Hertha BSC and Hoffenheim, but Lahm felt that was not only negative. “It’s an advantage when you know you’re in a position to turn a match around,” the captain ventured. However, he was quick to add a rider: “We much prefer going 1-0 up.” If the team can manage that, it would be a big step towards reaching the last sixteen.