Sun, Aug 09, 2009 - Page 20 News List

BUNDES LIGA: Wolfsburg launch title defense with a win

AFP , BERLIN

Stuttgart defender Christian Traesch, left, and Wolfsburg striker Grafite vie for the ball during the first Bundesliga match of the season in Wolfsburg, Germany, on Friday.

PHOTO: AFP

Wolfsburg launched the defense of their German league title with an impressive 2-0 win over Stuttgart on Friday, striking an early blow against a team tipped as potential successors to the crown.

The departure of title-winning coach Felix Magath to Schalke 04 showed no signs of eating into Wolfsburg’s confidence as late goals from Bosnian playmaker Zvjezdan Misimovic and Brazilian striker Grafite secured the points.

Grafite and Bosnian striker Edin Dzeko, who grabbed 54 goals between them last season, were quickly out of the blocks.

In the 19th minute, Dzeko pounced on a defensive error by Frenchman Matthieu Delpierre, but former Arsenal goalkeeper Jens Lehmann turned the Bosnian’s shot around the post.

Grafite was then thwarted by Lehmann, who still looked sharp despite his approaching 40th birthday, on the half-hour mark.

Stuttgart had some opportunities in the first half, with Sami Khedira seeing a shot saved on the line by Wolfsburg goalkeeper Diego Benaglio and new signing Pavel Pogrebniak also having a header saved.

Wolfsburg’s pressure finally told, however, in the 71st minute when a drive from Misimovic beat Lehmann, before Grafite added a second, eight minutes from time.

“It was a very good night for us,” said Grafite, the league’s top scorer last season. “We could have won by more, but we know that every match in the championship will be tough.”

Wolfsburg coach Armin Veh said his side were worthy winners.

“After a very equal first half, where either side could have scored, we then dominated the second half and deserved the victory,” Veh said.

Meanwhile, midfield tough-guy Mark van Bommel leads Bayern Munich into their new season determined to stamp his authority and that of new coach Louis van Gaal on the Bavarian giants.

The two Dutchmen are key to Bayern’s hopes of wresting the title back from Wolfsburg after finishing an agonizing two points behind the shock champions last season.

Van Gaal, who has followed the sacked Jurgen Klinsmann into the Bayern hot seat, believes van Bommel is the right man for the skipper’s armband as another marathon league and European Champions League season beckons.

“I saw that Mark has a huge influence on the team,” van Gaal said. “He’s a big supporter of my philosophy, my methods and my values. That matters to me. I need someone to represent me on the field.”

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