Sat, Dec 06, 2003 - Page 19 News List

Bayern reach crossroads

AFP , BERLIN

Reigning champions Bayern Munich are at a crossroads heading into the winter break facing a crunch title duel with Werder Bremen today aware that defeat could leave them with a mountain to climb to retain the Bundesliga crown.

A 3-0 midweek German Cup win over SV Hamburg will give Bayern some much-needed confidence ahead of the trip to the Weserstadion but they will meet a team at the top of their game.

Bremen are brimming with confidence after a 6-1 Cup demolition of Hertha Berlin in midweek and the fact that they have not lost in their last six outings against Munich bodes well for coach Thomas Schaaf.

If the hosts can defeat Bayern and title challengers VfB Stuttgart and Bayer Leverkusen both pick up maximum points the situation would look bleak for the champions, who would be nine points adrift of Stuttgart, seven behind Bremen and six points below Leverkusen.

"After the Champions League exit last season journalists predicted a torrid season but we ended up winning the league and cup double," said a defiant Bayern general manager Uli Hoeness.

"But the players need to look themselves in the mirror. At the moment they are in the comfort zone."

Stopping Werder's Brazilian striker Ailton -- who has netted 13 goals this season -- is the task awaiting Bayern's suspect defense that conceded two goals against rock bottom Cologne in last Saturday's 2-2 draw.

"We have a lot of respect for Ailton," declared Bayern manager Ottmar Hitzfeld. "He is incredibly dangerous in front of goal."

Bremen sporting director Klaus Allofs believes his team can go on to depose Bayern as German champions but Hitzfeld, who has doubts over midfielder Michael Ballack, maintains his charges will not roll over and give up their crown without a fight.

"If you want the title you have to go over Bayern," stated Hitzfeld.

Bundesliga leaders Stuttgart crashed out of the German Cup with a 4-2 drubbing by Borussia Monchengladbach in midweek and will hope to get back on track with the long trip north to SV Hamburg.

Leverkusen were another leading team to fall foul in the cup with village team TSG Hoffenheim winning 3-2 on Tuesday night.

After crashing out of the Champions League, UEFA Cup and German Cup Borussia Dortmund will also be looking to stay in the title hunt with a home match against Hertha Berlin.

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