Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

Euro 2012 Preview – Group B

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 4, 2012

Euro 2012 logoStoppage Time – International Football Blog continues its preview of the oncoming UEFA European Championships which begin on Friday. In this blog we look at Group B which contains Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal and Denmark.

GROUP B

DENMARK: Best Performance = Winners 1992

Most football fans will know of the legend that has built around the 1992 European Championship winning team. The country hadn’t even qualified for the tournament but an oncoming civil war in Yugoslavia meant that Denmark would enter the tournament in their place and with a team including Brian Laudrup and Peter Schmeichel the nation would go on to enjoy a 2-0 final success over favourites Germany. A repeat of that performance looks beyond the current crop as a tough draw has handed them three of the favourites in the form of Germany, Netherlands and Portugal. There is still hope for Denmark, however, who reached Euro 2012 by topping qualifying Group H over Portugal who, in turn, needed a play-off to reach the tournament. Many observers are expecting 20 year old Christian Eriksen to make his name in this tournament whilst Niklas Bendtner will hope to put a poor season firmly behind him and help Denmark progress.

COACH: Morten Olsen

FIFA WORLD RANKING = 10

GERMANY: Best Performance = Winners 1972, 1980 (as West Germany), 1996 (as Germany)

Footballing aristocracy at its finest, the Germans always expect to, and usually do, perform at the major international tournaments. West Germany became the first nation in 1972 to hold both the FIFA World Cup and UEFA European Championship titles, a fate only matched subsequently by France (2000) and Spain (2010). Further successes in 1980 and in 1996, under the guise of Germany, have helped ensure that the Nationalmannschaft maintain their position as the most successful European national team. A faultless qualifying campaign saw Germany top Group A with ten wins from ten, a massive thirteen points ahead of Turkey, and become the first team outside of joint hosts Poland and Ukraine to qualify for Euro 2012. In a side containing a quality blend of youth and experience there are lots of potential match winners including Miroslav Klose, Mario Gomez, Thomas Müller and Lukas Podolski whilst the further development of players such as Mario Götze and Mesut Özil will be paramount to Germany’s chances in the competition.

COACH: Joachim Löw

FIFA WORLD RANKING = 2

NETHERLANDS: Best Performance = Winners 1988

The Dutch are always amongst the favourites in any international tournament despite only ever having been victorious in one major finals. The fabulous team of Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard swept all before them in the 1988 tournament in West Germany as the Oranje won their only major trophy so far when defeating the Soviet Union 2-0 in the final in Munich. The Netherlands kept up their marvellous record in qualifying by topping Group E with nine wins and one defeat in ten matches and heading the table over Sweden. Just like Germany, the Dutch are an exciting team with lots of potential match winners. Most eyes will be looking at Robin van Persie, who has been in exceptional form for Arsenal FC this season, but there are lots of other stars in the squad including Arjen Robben, Rafael van der Vaart and Wesley Sneijder to name but three.

COACH: Bert van Marwijk

FIFA WORLD RANKING = 4

PORTUGAL: Best Performance = Runner Up 2004

Portugal is arguably the most talented footballing nation never to have won a major international tournament. Their disappointing defeat on home soil in the 2004 European Championship final was the nation’s best chance to win a maiden title but a shock defeat to Greece has set the Portuguese team back. The most recent European Championship in 2008 saw Portugal lose to eventual finalists Germany in the quarter-final stages and with the Germans in their group this time around as well as the Netherlands there is a chance that Portugal will struggle to progress beyond the group stage. Even in qualifying the Portuguese finished second in Group H behind Denmark, the third team in their group in the 2012 finals, so the omens aren’t looking favourable. This will mean more pressure heaped upon the shoulders of star player Cristiano Ronaldo whose personal levels of performance have grown to exceptional levels playing for Real Madrid over the last few years. He will, however, need to be supported by an able cast including the likes of Nani, João Moutinho and Hélder Postiga if Portugal are to defy the odds.

COACH: Paulo Bento

FIFA WORLD RANKING = 5

GROUP B FIXTURES

09/06/12 Netherlands v Denmark

09/06/12 Germany v Portugal

13/06/12 Denmark v Portugal

13/06/12 Germany v Netherlands

17/06/12 Denmark v Germany

17/06/12 Netherlands v Portugal

Germany: Bayern fears as Dortmund claim Double in fine style

Posted in European Football by peterbein on May 13, 2012

Borussia Dortmund wrote a new chapter in their history when winning the DFB Pokal (German Cup) last night. Not content with winning the Bundesliga with a record total of 81 points , the Schwarzgelben (black and yellows) routed UEFA Champions League finalists FC Bayern 5-2 to claim the German league and cup double for the first time in the club’s history. Goals from Shinji Kagawa, Mats Hummels and a hat-trick from Polish striking sensation Robert Lewandowski gave Dortmund the cup for the third time, their first triumph in this competition since 1989, and underlined just how far the balance of power has shifted in German football over the last couple of years.

For a club like FC Bayern to come second is one thing, to come second in such a weak manner shows that Dortmund have made all the right judgements since coach Jurgen Klopp took over the helm nearly four years ago. They have shown great stability, consistency and have transformed themselves from a mid-ranking club back to a footballing power with a team able to mix the virtues of neat attacking football and an honest work ethic. FC Bayern, on the other hand, have allowed themselves to become embroiled in petty team squabbles, particularly between superstars Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, which is in keeping with the derogatory “FC Hollywood” tag with which they have been synonymous for decades.

Many could argue, with some justification, that Dortmund were aided by their early elimination from European competition whilst FC Bayern have had to juggle three competitions throughout the campaign. The longer rest periods inbetween matches has allowed Dortmund to focus their minds more thoroughly on domestic matters whilst the goal of reaching the UEFA Champions League final in their home stadium in Munich has pre-occupied FC Bayern’s campaign. With this in mind it will be interesting to see how FC Bayern will react to their German Cup final thrashing when they appear in their ‘home’ UEFA Champions League final against Chelsea FC next Saturday. Will the pressure and expectation fail Bayern once more, just like in 1999 and 2010, or will they re-group and put domestic misery out of their minds to win a fifth European crown? They certainly have the players and the talent, their performances against Real Madrid in the semi-finals are a case in point, but if the squad allows itself to get distracted before the big game then Chelsea could use that to their advantage especially as they have come back from early season adversity to claim one domestic trophy, the FA Cup, already this season.

It will also be interesting to see how FC Bayern will prepare themselves for next season. Rumours are rife regarding the impending departure of Arjen Robben who, along with Ribery, scored the consolation strikes for FC Bayern in the German Cup final. Champions Dortmund have already signalled their intent for the future by bringing in Marco Reus from Borussia Mönchengladbach and allowing Lucas Barrios, top scorer in the 2010-11 season, to move to Chinese outfit Ghangzhou Evergrande. FC Bayern will also need to bring in some fresh faces and get rid of some dead wood if they are to refresh themselves for future challenges. Whether they do that as European champions and take some of the gloss off Dortmund’s recent achievements remains to be seen.

Away Days: Eintracht Frankfurt v TSV 1860 München

Posted in Away Days by peterbein on May 4, 2012

Eintracht (red/black shirts) plays FC Bayern in an U-19 game

Hi everybody, I’m back! Yes, it has been a while since I’ve written anything new for the blog and I won’t bore you with the reasons for my prolonged absence. It’s also been a while since I went on an Away Day to Frankfurt am Main and wanted to share with you the joys of celebrating promotion with my favourite German club Eintracht Frankfurt.

Having arrived “on the Main” last Friday, the football action got under way one day later when, as a warm-up to the main event (no pun intended) on Sunday, Eintracht Frankfurt’s Under-19 side played against 1860’s local rivals FC Bayern in the national Under-19 Bundesliga championship (South/South-West division). On a beautiful sunny Saturday morning there must’ve been at least two hundred souls at the Stadion am Riederwald who came out to see a glimpse of German football’s future potential stars in action. Sadly for the home contingent there weren’t too many great chances to shout about but the visitors hardly imposed themselves on the game either. FC Bayern did score the only goal of the game early in the second half; the goalscorer’s identity must however remain anonymous as I’d unprofessionally taken my eye off the game while the ball hit the back of the net.

Following a home defeat to one group of Bavarians I did privately fear that the professional Eintracht team would go on to lose to the other mob in the 2. Bundesliga (second division) game on Sunday. I was very privileged to get a ticket for this match as Eintracht had for many weeks looked likely to gain promotion and, unsurprisingly, this game was the hottest ticket in town. Having ventured with them on previous Away Days (see past reports) to Nuremberg and Dortmund, I express once again my eternal gratitude to the members of Eintracht supporters group “EFC 11-er Freunde” who helped get me into the stadium and make sure I was a part of the promotion party. Only six days earlier had Die Adler (the Eagles) confirmed their top flight status for next season with a convincing 3-0 away win against Alemania Aachen but they still, in theory, had first place to fight for along with SpVgg Greuther Fürth.

Fans choreo before the game

Following a fantastic choreography before the start of the game, in which fans held up cards above their heads to produce the slogan “Nie mehr 2. Liga” (Second Division no more), the game got under way in front of a sold out 50.800 crowd. Sadly my earlier fears about losing out to more Bavarians were to come true as the visitors started well and deservedly went two goals up in the first quarter of the match. An unfortunate own goal by Eintracht full-back Sebastian Jung in the 17th minute was followed up with an unchallenged header for Guillermo Vallori from a corner kick just four minutes later.  For the remainder of the game the passion of the Eintracht supporters couldn’t be emulated on the pitch by the players who, it seemed, already had their minds on the beach for the summer holidays. Just as well, I guess, that promotion was already sealed but that is not to take anything away from 1860 München, who are the only team to defeat Eintracht home and away this season and who were evidently more up for the game. Despite the result a good natured pitch invasion came about at the end of the game in which the fans could celebrate with the players and look forward to a new season of fighting it out with the big boys such as FC Bayern, Dortmund and Schalke 04, exactly where a traditional club of Frankfurt’s stature should be.

Frankfurt fans celebrate promotion after the game

One last shout goes towards a fan group from the English town of Oldham, who I met for the first time in Dortmund last season. Folowing the 1860 match I arranged to meet up with all the lads in the famous Eintracht fans’ bar “Klapper 33” in the district of Sachsenhausen and discovered just how popular they were with some of the regulars. Die Engländer have certainly made an impression over the years, confirmed by the fact that the last thing I expected to hear in a Frankfurt bar was a group of Germans chanting „Come on Oldham!“ at the top of their voices. Having attempted, and failing miserably, to get a similar chorus of Liverpool chants going I took defeat on the chin and realized that there would be a part of Germany that would be forever Oldham and posed with one of their home-made „Two Teams, One Spirit“ scarves. Hopefully it won‘t be long before there’s an away day in Oldham to look forward to and I could just be the latest convert to the „Come on Oldham“ brigade.

The perils of live television now haunt former Arsenal star Keown (video)

Posted in European Football by peterbein on January 11, 2012

Watching the FA Cup 3rd round tie between Arsenal and Leeds United on Monday evening might not have proved so entertaining if former Arsenal defender Martin Keown had not have been struck by a ball hit by a visiting Leeds player in the pre-match warm up. Keown was standing by the pitch alongside ESPN presenter Rebecca Lowe and ex-footballer Robbie Savage.

At least Keown had an inkling that the ball was coming towards him. In contrast German TV presenter Jessica Kastrop had absolutely no idea that a ball was aiming towards the back of her head whilst working on the side line ahead of the 1. FSV Mainz 05 v VfB Stuttgart clash in the Bundesliga last season. If one thing is to be learnt by television companies it is that presenters and pundits should not be anywhere near the teams while they are warming up; that’s unless the broadcasters are just hedging their bets in case the main event doesn’t prove quite as exciting.

Germany: Reus to move to Dortmund next season

Posted in European Football by peterbein on January 4, 2012

Marco Reus, the rising star in the German Bundesliga having helped Borussia Mönchengladbach to a respectable fourth place during the winter break, will be leaving the club at the end of the season to play for Borussia Dortmund.

It was announced today on Mönchengladbach’s website that the player will remain at the club for the 2011-12 season before signing a five year deal with the current German champions Dortmund for a transfer fee of 17,5 million Euros.

Having started his career at Rot-Weiss Ahlen in 2007, Reus moved to his current club for the 2009-10 season during which the club sealed a twelfth placed finish. In the following season Gladbach looked set to go down but some fantastic form late in the campaign helped them avoid the drop thanks in no small part to Reus’s goals including one in the promotion/relegation play-off match against VfL Bochum.

Now in his third season with the Rhine club Reus finds himself amongst the league’s top scorers with ten goals, six behind leading scorer Mario Gomez of FC Bayern, and many had been tipping him to leave for the Bavarians before news of his impending transfer to Dortmund broke today.

Germany: Holders Schalke eliminated from Cup

Posted in European Football by peterbein on December 23, 2011

DFB PokalDFB Pokal (German Cup) holders Schalke 04 were dumped out of this season’s competition by Borussia Mönchengladbach following the latter’s 3-1 home win in Wednesday’s Round of 16 tie.

Borussia Mönchengladbach ensured that there would be no repeat triumph for Schalke 04 in this year’s DFB Pokal. Juan Arango gave Borussia the lead on 18 minutes which was doubled ten minutes after the break when striking sensation Marco Reus bagged his first goal of the night. Schalke did make a fight of it and pulled one back through substitute Julian Draxler but the cup holders, who were down to ten men for virtually all of the second half after Klaas-Jan Huntelaar saw red in the 46th minute, saw their dreams for this season go up in smoke as Reus grabbed his second goal with two minutes remaining. Schalke’s night ended with Jermaine Jones also seeing red as the Ruhr Valley outfit went out in sorry fashion whilst Mönchengladbach continue their great season, lying fourth in the Bundesliga standings whilst through to the last eight of the cup.

FC Bayern had Arjen Robben to thank on Tuesday as the Dutchman gave his side a 2-1 win with his goal coming in stoppage time at the end of a tight game against second division VfL Bochum. Giovanni Federico’s 26th minute goal gave Bochum the lead but Bayern, record winners of the Pokal with 15 successes, overturned the deficit with goals from Toni Kroos and Robben with the Bavarians favourites to win “The Pot” once more. SpVgg Greuther Fürth, second in the second division, overcame four-time winners Nürnberg on their home turf with Edgar Prib’s 15th minute strike proving the difference between the sides in a Franconian derby. The visitors saw defender Bernd Nehrig sent off with 25 minutes left to play but Fürth held out and secured a place in the last eight of the cup for the second time in three years.

In another shock Holstein Kiel got the better of 1.FSV Mainz 05 with a 2-0 victory courtesy of an Anthony Ujah own goal and Steve Müller’s 34th minute strike. Fortuna Düsseldorf, the current second division leaders, took Bundesliga champions Borussia Dortmund all the way in their Round of 16 but were unfortunate to lose in a penalty shoot-out following a goalless draw after extra-time. VfB Stuttgart eliminated Hamburger SV in their home Mercedes Benz Arena with Cacau grabbing both goals for the Swabians as they defeated their Hanseatic opponents with a 2-1 victory, William Kvist’s own goal providing a consolation for the visitors. Hertha BSC and TSG 1899 Hoffenheim make up the last eight after getting the better of first division opponents 1. FC Kaiserslautern and FC Augsburg respectively.

QUARTER-FINAL DRAW

Hertha BSC v Borussia Mönchengladbach

TSG 1899 Hoffenheim v SpVgg Greuther Fürth

Holstein Kiel v Borussia Dortmund

VfB Stuttgart v FC Bayern

Ties to be played on 7-8 February, 2012.

Germany: Bayern top table at winter break

Posted in European Football by peterbein on December 17, 2011
FC Bayern

Mario Gomez (left) is the top scorer in the Bundesliga this season

FC Bayern München secured the tag of Herbstmeister (autumn champions) in Germany last night. Despite going down to ten men following Franck Ribéry’s red card on the half hour mark, FC Bayern were seldom troubled by visiting 1.FC Köln as they strolled to a 3-0 victory. The win leaves Bayern with a six point lead at the top of the Bundesliga standings with everybody else left to play the 17th round of matches this weekend before the league undertakes its customary winter break.

FC Bayern started off the season with a shocking defeat at home to Borussia Mönchengladbach, a team who scraped their way out of relegation trouble at the end of last season, but soon recovered to win their next six games in a row including a 7-0 hammering of SC Freiburg to top the table. A minor blip on matchday 8 saw a goalless draw away at TSG 1899 Hoffenheim before the Bavarians got back to winning ways with a 4-0 rout of Hertha BSC. Just when things looked good for Bayern, however, they began to suffer some inconsistency in form with wins in the Bavarian derby to 1. FC Nürnberg and an expected win over 1.FC Augsburg coupled with defeats such as the top of the table clash against defending champions Borussia Dortmund as well as succumbing to the challenge of a struggling 1.FSV Mainz 05 side on Matchday 14, a game which saw Bayern lose their leadership of the standings. But such is life in the Bundesliga that one can never write Bayern off and they came back to win their last three matches in the first half of the league season. Impressive victories at home to Werder Bremen and away in the “Derby of the South” against VfB Stuttgart were complimented by last night’s win over 1. FC Köln.

French international Franck Ribéry got himself in a spot of bother when getting involved in a petty squabble with Portuguese forward Henrique Sereno in the 33rd minute. Following a yellow card for the initial altercation Ribéry then appeared to put his hands on Sereno’s throat, a move which gained him an instant dismissal. Despite this FC Bayern came out fighting in the second half and went ahead just three minutes after the break with league top scorer Mario Gomez helping himself to his 16th goal of the season. Further goals from David Alaba and Toni Kroos helped the Rekordmeister (record champions) seal a 3-0 win and the top spot at the winter break.

Traditionally the team who leads the table at the halfway point of the season will go on to win the league trophy in Germany. This has happened 32 times in the Bundesliga’s 48 year history so far but FC Bayern do face some stiff competition this season with the likes of Dortmund, Schalke 04, Werder Bremen and surprise package Mönchengladbach all ready to pounce in the event of a rare slip from the Münchener.

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UEFA: Germany become first team to qualify for 2012 (+video)

Posted in International Football by peterbein on September 3, 2011

Germany became the first nation, along with tournament hosts Ukraine and Poland, to qualify for the 2012 UEFA European Championships last night. Their 6-2 victory over neighbours Austria gave the Nationalmannschaft an unassailable nine point lead at the top of qualifying Group A.

Goals from Miroslav Klose, Mesut Özil (2) and Lukas Podolski along with additional strikes from substitutes André Schürrle and Mario Götze put the cherry on top of the cake for Germany whose defence was breached just twice by Marko Arnautovic and Martin Harnik, both of whom ply their trade in the German Bundesliga with Werder Bremen and VfB Stuttgart respectively.

Germany, with a 100% record after eight games, are nine points ahead of Turkey who are favourites to finish in second place following their late 2-1 win at home to Kazakhstan last night whilst third place Belgium dropped two crucial points away in Azerbaijan. Germany will still play a significant role in the group as their final two games will see them play each of the two teams hoping for a play-off spot. Germany will meet Turkey away from home on October 7th and will finish their campaign in Düsseldorf against Belgium four days later.

Bundesliga: Mainz maintain perfect record in Munich

Posted in European Football by peterbein on September 25, 2010
Adam Szalai

Ádám Szalai scored the winner in Mainz's 2-1 victory away at FC Bayern

The German Bundesliga saw an intriging clash between champions FC Bayern München and top of the table 1. FSV Mainz 05 this afternoon at the former’s Allianz Arena home. The away team came to Munich as the only side with a perfect 100% record after five games in the 2010-11 campaign and was the biggest test yet for the club who had previously beaten VfB Stuttgart, VfL Wolfsburg, 1.FC Kaiserslautern, Werder Bremen and 1.FC Köln.

FC Bayern, the Rekordmeister, are favourites going into every game in Germany but it was the table toppers who showed that they had no respect for their hosts by having the first major chances of the game through Ádám Szalai and Lewis Holtby before the latter’s 15th minute cross was turned home skillfully by Sami Allagui to put the Rheinlanders in front. The game continued with both teams making good chances and it seemed that Mainz were going in with a one goal advantage at the break before an unfortunate Bo Svensson own goal restored parity for the home team in first half stoppage time.

At this point many people would’ve predicted the champions to do what they always do and put the young pretenders to the sword but the misfortune that Mainz suffered at the end of the first half did not affect their game after the pause and it was they who continued to take the attack to FC Bayern. They got their reward in the 77th minute after substitute André Schürrle crossed the ball from the right and it arrived at the feet of forward Ádám Szalai who had his back to goal but was able to hit the ball on the turn into the top right hand corner of the goal from 14 yards out. The Hungarian, who was signed from Real Madrid after last season’s loan period, scored his third goal in Mainz colours and it was without doubt his most spectacular and important.

FC Bayern did have a couple of chances towards the end of the game but coach Louis van Gaal and his players would be left shell-shocked at the sight of the scoreboard at the end of the match. Mainz had preserved their 100% record and for coach Thomas Tuchel, who has only held the job since August 2009, it is just reward for what he has done for the team in such a short space of time. Having led the club to a respectable ninth place in 2009-10, it is fantastic to see an under-rated coach achieve early success with a young team who have defied all expectations. Mainz lead the table with 18 points, ten ahead of FC Bayern who lie in an unfamiliar 8th place. Now, of course, the tough job is only just beginning: how long can they stay there?

Bundesliga: 2010-11 Season Preview

Posted in European Football by peterbein on August 17, 2010
FC Bayern München

Mark Van Bommel lifts the Bundesliga trophy for FC Bayern last season. Will they win it again in 2010-11?

Der Ball rollt wieder! The Bundesliga is back on Friday and everybody is looking forward to another great season in arguably Europe’s most exciting league. Germany’s Rekordmeister FC Bayern München have already sent out the warning signs to the rest of the Bundesliga having secured the DFB Supercup over Schalke 04 in Augsburg a fortnight ago. Seventeen clubs are hoping to knock the Bavarian giants off their perch but can anybody really stop Louis Van Gaal’s men from winning the Meisterschale for a 23rd time? Stoppage Time – International Football Blog previews the weekend’s games ahead of the new campaign:

It has become a recent tradition in the Bundesliga that the defending champions take part in the opening match of the following season but this season’s big kick-off sees the last two title winning teams facing off in Munich’s Allianz Arena on Friday. FC Bayern, under the stewardship of Louis Van Gaal, will hope to emulate their achievements of last season in which they won the league and cup double for the sixth time in the last decade. Their opponents will be 2008-09 champions VfL Wolfsburg who have reignited their ambitions by bringing in English coach Steve McClaren who has been such a success in neighbouring Holland with FC Twente Enschede. Not only have Die Wölfe kept hold of important players such as Džeko, Grafite and Misimović but have brought in some new talent such as Simon Kjær and Arne Friedrich.

Raúl

Raúl (middle) is the biggest signing of the summer for Schalke 04

Last season’s runners up Schalke 04 are hoping to go one better under determined coach Felix Magath and pulled off one of the transfer coups of the summer bringing in Real Madrid legend Raúl who, although is past his prime, can still perform on the highest stage and will bring some much needed experience to the Gelsenkirchen club. They play Hamburger SV on Saturday evening with the northern port club needing Ruud Van Nistelrooy to kick-start their season with plenty of goals after they narrowly missed out on a European place last season. Their northern neighbours Werder Bremen may be pre-occupied by UEFA Champions League qualification matters in the opening days of the new season but they’ll still want to get off to a good start especially as they have failed to win on the opening day of a league season since 2006-07. Their preparations have been hampered somewhat by the ongoing speculation surrounding their star player Mesut Özil whose move to Real Madrid was finalised today. Bremen’s opponents on Saturday are TSG 1899 Hoffenheim who are in their third season of Bundesliga football and still maintain the high ambitions they had from when they arrived on the scene in 2008-09.

Michael Skibbe

Eintracht Frankfurt coach Michael Skibbe wants the club to challenge for Europe

In the other Saturday matches Eintracht Frankfurt will hope to continue their steady progress under coach Michael Skibbe and after a successful pre-season, the highlight of which was a 2-1 win over English double winners Chelsea FC, Die Adler will hope to better last season’s tenth place and challenge for a UEFA Europa League place. Having signed Theofanis Gekas from Bayer Leverkusen the club should be guaranteed more goals from a striker who is used to life in the Bundesliga. Eintracht play Hannover 96 who have suffered in recent times due to the untimely death of keeper Robert Enke but will approach this season fresh after staying up in the midst of last season’s relegation battle. Nürnberg, who avoided relegation last season thanks to a 5-0 aggregate win against FC Augsburg in the play-off, are away at five-times champions Borussia Mönchengladbach whilst the two newly-promoted teams both face away trips on the opening day of the new season. Last season’s 2. Bundesliga champions 1.FC Kaiserslautern return after a four year absence and travel to Cologne to play 1.FC Köln for whom superstar Lukas Podolski will want to get back amongst the goals after a disappointing 2009-10 campaign. St Pauli, the legendary cult club from Hamburg, also return to the top flight and may fancy their chances against an SC Freiburg side who finished 14th last term and are amongst the favourites for the drop having signed very few players in the close season.

Leverkusen

Michael Ballack (middle) is back at Bayer 04 Leverkusen

On Sunday VfB Stuttgart, rejuvenated under the guidance of coach Christian Gross following the sacking of his predecessor Markus Babbel last Christmas, will hope to start with an away win at 1.FSV Mainz but that is no way guaranteed against a team who finished in a respectable ninth place in 2009-10. The final game of the weekend is a widely anticipated clash between an improving Borussia Dortmund and ambitious Bayer 04 Leverkusen who, despite an unbeaten 22 game start, could only finish in fourth place last season. Leverkusen have made their intentions clear for the new season by signing Michael Ballack from Chelsea and have kept stars Stefan Kießling, Patrick Helmes and Simon Rolfes although they had to see Toni Kroos return to FC Bayern after his loan spell. Dortmund have qualified for the UEFA Europa League in the two seasons that Jürgen Klopp has been their coach but they may harbour quiet ambitions towards the UEFA Champions League this time especially as they have kept the nucleus of the team which finished in fifth place last season.


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