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Bender twins emerge as key players for Dortmund, Leverkusen

The uninitiated could have been forgiven for rubbing their eyes at Friday's match between Dortmund and Leverkusen. A set of young identical twins played against one another - and showed they're both pretty good.

Seven and Lars Bender

Sven plays in Dortmund yellow; Lars in Leverkusen red and black

Until Leverkusen's defense decided to take a collective six-minute post-holiday holiday, their clash with Dortmund was an eminently watchable game contested between two of Germany's most talented young midfields.

And securing those midfields for both sides was a player named Bender.

Sven Bender has become a mainstay of Dortmund's remarkable drive for the title, having played in all but one of his team's league matches this season.

His twin brother, Lars, has been used mostly as a substitute, but it was a mark of coach Jupp Heynckes' confidence in the 21-year-old that he got the starting nod ahead of a convalescent Michael Ballack in one of the pivotal matches of this Bundesliga campaign.

The two midfielders describe themselves not just as brothers, but best friends. And although they have gone their separate ways in signing on with different clubs, their paths to professional football and up to the first division ran almost completely parallel.

Young Lions

Sven and Lars Bender

The two learned many of their tricks at 1860 Munich

The Benders were born near the Munich suburb of Rosenheim and began playing football at the age of four. And their path to the pros is fairly typical of that region, involving the youth divisions of Unterhaching, where their father also became a coach, and the Bavarian capital's other big club 1860 Munich.

1860, currently languishing in the middle of the second-division table, have dropped off the radar screen somewhat, but the team was playing in the Champions League as recently as 2000.

Troubled finances mean the Lions, as they are known, now need to sell off young talent at a relatively early age. But tight purse strings also mean that the club depends on developing homegrown prospects, and the infrastructure for doing so is still in place from the team's halcyon days.

Sven and Lars Bender are two products of this system. Both rose up through the ranks at 1860, before departing for their respective clubs in 2009.

Future nationals?

Sven and Lars Bender

Watching the Benders play against one another can be a bit confusing

Neither of the twins score a lot of goals. That's because they are primarily defensive midfielders.

But they both fit a new mold of stopper of which Germany has been producing a surfeit in recent years.

Traditionally, stoppers have been burly fellows chiefly responsible for bringing down opponents' attackers by means fair or foul. Sven and Lars Bender, however, are lean players adept at sparking offensive forays and getting forward themselves.

Sven Bender has harmonized perfectly with Nuri Sahin at Dortmund this year, and against Leverkusen, he generated his team's first chance, a header that hit the post early on in the match

"In principal, Nuri remains the creative one, while I watch his back," Bender said in a recent interview with the Internet portal Spox. "But if you play with a tandem of defensive midfielders, it doesn't work if only one of them presses forward. That's too predictable for opponents."

A number of young guns from Dortmund have gotten call-ups to Germany's national side, and many predict Sven Bender could be the next.

Arguably, Lars Bender isn't quite that far along, but he faces stiffer competition for playing time since Leverkusen's squad includes veteran German nationals Ballack and Simon Rolfes.

And on Friday, he looked very solid as part of a midfield that kept Dortmund's frenetic pressing at bay for the first 45 minutes.

That match up was only the second time Sven and Lars Bender have squared off against one another in the first division. But the odds are there will be many more fraternal contests to come.

Author: Jefferson Chase
Editor: Matt Hermann

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