Football: Egos bruised but unbowed at `FC Hollywood'

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The Independent Online
THE GERMAN press are calling it "the week of truth" for their country's four representatives in the Champions' League, every one of them having begun it unsure of whether or not they would qualify for the second stage. At Bayern Munich, aka FC Hollywood, the truth is never easy to discern, but as this latest mini-series goes to its last act - a home game against Rangers that must be won if the Scots are not to progress instead - there is evidence that the stars are at least all reading from the same script.

At the club's well-appointed training complex in the south of the city yesterday, players and coach were wheeled in to speak almost as one of their respect for the Scottish champions, their good fortune in gaining a 1-1 draw at Ibrox - without which they would now be eliminated - and their confidence about making home advantage tell.

Being Bayern, there had to be drama of some sort as well, with Lothar Matthaus inevitably at the centre of it; the 38-year-old sweeper left the club's media officer having to offer profuse apologies for refusing to attend a specially convened news conference at which he would doubtless have been pressed on whether he still intended to join the New York Metrostars next month.

Tonight's result may well be the deciding factor. In the meantime, even Bixente Lizarazu, the little French wing-back who was involved in fisty- cuffs with Matthaus during a training session earlier in the season, was prepared to speak in praise of his captain. That incident, coming amid a poor start to the new Bundesliga campaign, and some disappointing Champions' League performances, showed up the psychological scars left by Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in the tumultuous finish to last season's European Cup final. Self-belief, not normally a problem for Bayern, was further dented by last week's unexpected 2-1 defeat by PSV Eindhoven before a 5-0 victory over Wolfsburg on Saturday and a return to the top of the German league improved morale.

"The team's getting better and we're very optimistic," said the coach, Ottmar Hitzfeld. "We have the potential to do as well as we did last year." Jens Jeremies, whose red card against PSV led to a mass brawl on the touchline, is suspended but the first-choice goalkeeper, Oliver Khan, has regained fitness.

Rangers would be foolish to sit back and assume that Bayern's attack will be as ineffectual as in the first game, when the Germans only equalised in the last minute with a deflected free-kick. The American midfielder Claudio Reyna, a former Bundesliga player, who is expected to return for Rangers, has already expressed his belief that Bayern tend to get the better of borderline decisions on their home ground, which rather smacks of getting excuses in first. Getting a goal in first would be more useful and would be invaluable in making the point that really matters.

Bayern Munich (probable) Khan; Babbel, Matthaus, Linke; Strunz, Fink, Effenberg, Lizarazu; Scholl; Elber, Paulo Sergio.

Rangers (probable): Klos; Porrini, Moore, Amoruso, Vidmar; Reyna, B Ferguson, Van Bronckhorst, Numan; Mols, Johansson.

The Scottish Football Association's hopes that Hampden Park could host the 2001 Champions' League final have been dashed by Uefa. The European governing body said yesterday that Hampden could not be considered because it had not yet been inspected.