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Sports

Bundesliga Point Calculations Begin

With just four games left, trainers at the bottom of the league have broken out into a sweat about where their teams will be playing next season, while the table's top teams fight over berths in the Champions League.

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The closest races are for the tables last three unenviable spots

Though fond of pointing out that anything can happen in soccer, Bayern Munich's road to its 19th German title should not prove all too difficult. If the league-leading Bavarians win away Saturday against FC Kaiserslautern, which has lost four of its last five games, they'll clinch the league's top spot with four matches left in the season.

Schalke 04, sitting just below Munich in the rankings, is aiming to put an end to the slide that has seen it bury its championship hopes and start getting nervous about its Champions League chances next season.

Second's not so bad

Bundesliga 30. Spieltag Hertha BSC Berlin gegen FC Schalke 04

Most the shots haven't gone Schalke's way recently

"We are second and a lot of teams would like to be in our position," Schalke coach Ralf Rangnick said last week. "I told the players that it is up to them whether they play in the Champions League or UEFA Cup next season."

A win at home against seventh place Bayer Leverkusen would go a long way in calming the team's nerves and, Schalke hopes, put some space between it and third place VfB Stuttgart, which is just one point behind the Royal Blues.

Leverkusen, however, has been playing well of late, most recently with a 3-1 win over Werder Bremen, last year's German champions. That seems to have made Schalke nervous. Yesterday Rangnick took his team to a secret location for some last-minute practice.

Bundesliga 30. Spieltag VfB Stuttgart gegen VfL Wolfsburg

Stuttgart is hoping for a Champions League spot

Another Schalke stumble would satisfy Stuttgart, which travels to 15th place Mönchengladbach this week. But Stuttgart trainer Matthias Sammer knows a little about stumbles too. VfB suffered an embarrassing loss to Hansa Rostock two weeks ago and played to a scoreless tie at home last week against Wolfsburg.

Berlin's European chances strengthen

After a 4-1 win last week against Schalke, European opportunities have opened up for Hertha Berlin, currently in fourth place. Riding a wave of three straight victories, Berlin travels to Rostock, where everything points to another win for the capital team whose last lost to Rostock came in 1997.

Self-criticism seems to be in style with fifth place Werder Bremen, which will try to fend off 11th place Arminia Bielefeld this weekend. Bremen's sports director, Klaus Allofs, declared that his team "is no longer a top team."

DFB-Pokal Fussball: Bremen gegen Schalke

Werder Bremen haven't had a lot to celebrate of late in the Bundesliga

Bielefeld looks like it will finish in the middle of the table this season. The team could be hoping that fresh faces bring better results next season after signing transfer deals that see Matthias Langkamp off to Wolfsburg and Delron Buckley heading to Dortmund.

Hamburg counting points

Confidence hasn't been lacking in Hamburg, another European play contender on Bremen's heels, before its visit to Wolfsburg on Sunday.

"We have better quality than our last four opponents and can set 12 points as a goal," said Hamburg's Belgian striker Emile Mpenza. "If we get them the UEFA Cup is certain."

Sunday's second game has Hanover scheduled to host 1. FC Nuremberg. Hanover and Nuremberg, separated by three points and ranked 12th and 13th respectively, played to a 1-1 draw in the Bundesliga's first round.

Fußball Bundesliga Saison 2005 FSV Mainz 05 and VfL Wolfsburg

Mainz's Michael Thurk, right, and the rest of his team are fighting for their place in the Bundesliga

Battle in basement continues

Bundesliga newcomer Mainz 05 looks fairly sure of staying in Germany's first division next season before its trip to Bochum, where the relegation question is still a murky one.

Bochum, known for its yo-yoing between Germany's top two divisions, was drummed last week by Bayern Munich and will attempt to take advantage of Mainz's horrendous away record -- the team has only earned one win in 15 trips away from home.

Borussia Dortmund will travel south to Freiburg, which after posting just three wins all season, already knows it will be relegated to the second division.

"We've been planning for the second division for weeks," Freiburg trainer Volker Finke said. "It was simply a terrible season for us with a lot of losses and the team just never got it together."

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