Football: Bayern baying for local relief

EUROPEAN FOOTBALL
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The Independent Online
BAYERN MUNICH seek to restore their pride when they visit VfB Stuttgart today on a weekend when the German first division programme has been disrupted by a shipment of nuclear waste through the country.

The load, which made its way on Friday after being repeatedly held up during the night by anti-nuclear activists, has led to several matches being postponed.

The league leaders, Kaiserslautern, saw their away match against bottom club Arminia Bielefeld rescheduled for 29 April.

Neither Bayer Leverkusen nor Schalke 04, respectively third and fourth, will be playing this weekend. Bayern, deep in crisis after three defeats and one draw in their last four Bundesliga outings, will try to recapture form in their south German derby at Stuttgart.

"We still have the possibility of concentrating on second place in the Bundesliga to reach the Champions' League," said the club president, Franz Beckenbauer, after his side bowed out to their arch-rivals, Borussia Dortmund, in the second leg of their European Cup quarter-final on Wednesday.

Dortmund, who had managed a goalless draw in Munich in the first leg, won the return match 1-0 with the Swiss striker Stephane Chapuisat scoring the winner 11 minutes before the end of extra time.

Stuttgart boosted their confidence for the Bayern match by using two masterful free-kicks from set piece expert Krasimir Balakov to beat Slavia Prague 2-0 on Thursday and qualify for the semi-finals of the European Cup-Winners' Cup with a 3-1 victory on aggregate.

"We must forget that match," warned Balakov. "Now Bayern are coming and it will be tough. I think the fact that they haven't been doing well lately will make it even more difficult for us."

Stuttgart's coach, Joachim Loew, who missed no fewer than seven first choice players when his side drew 0-0 at lowly Hamburg SV last weekend, still has injury worries.

Nigeria's Jonathan Akpoborie is nursing a sore knee while his fellow striker Fredi Bobic, carried off on a stretcher with a painful shoulder in the 73rd minute of Thursday's match, is unavailable. Florin Raducioiu is expected to fill in.

Bayern's coach, Giovanni Trapattoni, has his problems, too, with the midfielder Mario Basler sidelined with an ankle injury and their captain, Thomas Helmer, struggling with an ailing knee.

"I can't turn round and I can't shoot," Helmer said earlier this week. "If I played I wouldn't be doing the team a favour."

The match will have a particular significance for Bayern's Brazilian striker Giovane Elber, who used to work miracles at VfB Stuttgart when he had Balakov to set him up. Elber, who joined the Munich club for 12 million marks (pounds 4m) in the most expensive German deal this season, has become just another frustrated Bayern striker.

At least Bayern will be away from most of their usually faithful fans, who have noisily expressed their disapproval of their heroes' behaviour by hurling insults at them in their last few matches at the Olympic stadium.

The clashes between Bayern and Stuttgart, who keep the southern part of the country on the map of German football in a league dominated by clubs from the north-west, have often produced intense, eventful games.

The one Bayern prefer to remember in recent years is last May's in Munich, which they won 4-2 to make sure of a record 14th German title.

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