The defending champions Internazionale and their opponents, Werder Bremen, enter their Group A match in the Champions League today with serious injury problems.
Inter striker Diego Milito strained his thigh in a last-minute 1-0 loss to AS Roma at the weekend, while fellow forward Goran Pandev is also doubtful. Captain Javier Zanetti, Walter Samuel, Marco Materazzi and Thiago Motto are all unavailable.
Milito and Pandev were included in Inter's squad announced yesterday, although coach Rafa Benitez said he wouldn't decide on their status until match day. Bremen will be without forward Claudio Pizarro, captain Torsten Frings and defender Clemens Fritz.
Both sides began the group stage with 2-2 draws. Inter were held at Dutch champion FC Twente and Bremen battled back from two goals down to rescue a point against Tottenham. This is the third time the two clubs have met in the group stage, after 2004-05 and 2008-09, with one win each and two draws so far.
Inter conceded a 90th-minute strike from Mirko Vucinic in Saturday's loss to Roma, which highlighted how thin a bench the European champions have. Benitez has stuck with virtually the same four players in attack for Inter's first eight matches in all competitions this season: Wesley Sneijder, Pandev, Samuel Eto'o and Milito.
Another forward, Mario Balotelli, left for Manchester City and the only significant signing Inter made during the offseason was bringing in 18-year-old Brazil midfielder Coutinho, who needs time to mature and grasp the European game. "The good thing about football is that when a loss comes you get the chance to prove right away to yourselves, to the fans and the president that it was just a hiccup," said Inter goalkeeper Julio Cesar.
Inter have not lost two consecutive matches since February 2006, when current Man City manager Roberto Mancini was in charge. Benitez has had to face constant comparisons to Jose Mourinho, who guided Inter to an unprecedented treble last season with the Champions League, Serie A and Italian Cup titles.
Inter were criticised for playing for a draw at the end of the loss to Roma, after having wasted several scoring chances earlier on.
"The squad is still dangerous when it has the ball, when it attacks and on the counter-attack, but we've got to work on being more compact as a team and improving the defence," Benitez said. With a match against Juventus looming on Sunday, Benitez doesn't have much time to switch things around.
Bremen has already tasted success in Italy this season, having eliminated Sampdoria in the final qualifying round in August courtesy of an injury-time goal from Pizarro. Thomas Schaaf's side ended a two-game losing streak with a 3-2 derby win against northern German rivals Hamburg on Sunday, but Pizarro and Fritz both tore thigh muscles, while Frings bruised his hip.
"This is a harsh blow to us, a huge loss of quality ahead of a difficult trip," said Schaaf, whose team fought back from a two-goal deficit to draw 2-2 in its Group A opener at home against Tottenham Hotspur.
The injuries leave Schaaf without three top defenders, with Naldo yet to play this season because of a recurring knee issue and Sebastian Boenisch out for up to six months with knee cartilage damage. But he will have the services of Petri Pasanen, who missed the Hamburg contest with a knee injury.