Germany's Bundesliga teams cut a good figure on the international stage this week, with Schalke 04 and Hamburg winning to advance to the next stage of the UEFA Cup.
Not bad, Bundesliga: Hamburg and Daniel van Buyten advanced
A cursory glance at the schedule of international soccer competitions this week would have been enough to produce beads of sweat on the foreheads of most German soccer fans.
Perennial Bundesliga strongman Bayern Munich had a tough assignment playing AC Milan at home in the Champion's League tournament. Bremen had the unenviable task of taking on Italian Serie A leader Juventus Turin. In the second leg of the UEFA cup matches that started last week, Hertha and Schalke had tough away games, while Hamburg and Stuttgart needed strong performances at home to continue into the next round.
Michael Rensing, as Oliver Kahn's replacement, played a good game
The results were mostly satisfying, with Bayern and Bremen putting on respectable performances that will encourage them for the away leg, and Hamburg and Schalke winning to see themselves through to the quarterfinal of the UEFA Cup.
Bayern: 45 minutes was the difference
Bayern's 1-1 decision at home against AC Milan will make things difficult if they hope to advance to the tournament's quarterfinals. Though Michael Ballack scored a world-class goal, and Bayern attacked the venerable, if aged, Milan defense in the first half, they were unable to complete the job in the second. A hand ball gave AC Milan a penalty shot and the tie game.
"On a night where 45 minutes were enough to show the difference between Bayern's domination of the Bundesliga and their weakness on the international level, their shaky self-confidence was only able to find strength in their complaints about the controversial penalty shot," wrote Michael Horeni, in the F rankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ).
Bremen's finale furiouso
Compared to their German colleagues several hundred miles to the north, Bayern was downright stingy. Werder Bremen, which last year lost at the same stage of the Champion's League tournament by an aggregate score of 2-10, was eager to make a good showing. After taking a surprise early lead, they gave up two quick goals in the second half, giving sports writers fresh evidence with which to criticize their vulnerable defense.
Bremen's Johan Micoud scores the winner
A furious finale, in which Bremen scored two unanswered goals between the 87th minute and the final whistle, gave Bremen a 3-2 victory.
"Werder proved on Wednesday that it had learned from (last year's mistakes)," wrote Frank Heike in the FAZ.
Things will be tough for both Bundesliga teams in Italy. Juventus Turin is strong at home, and the two goals scored in Bremen give the Italians a leg up. Bayern Munich will have to hold Milan's impressive strike team, including Ukrainian Andrei Schevchenko, goal-less and score one themselves in order to advance.
Schalke poured it on in the second half
Hertha, Stuttgart fall quietly
Bundesliga teams Hamburg SV and Schalke 04, already have that part taken care of, granted in the less gilded UEFA Cup tournament. The two teams made the cut into the round of 16 on Thursday night. Schalke 04 dusted off Espanyol Barcelona away 3-0, while Hamburg managed a 2-0 at home, to see them past Swiss provincial team FC Thun.
The other survivors into the round of 32, Stuttgart and Hertha BSC Berlin were less fortunate. Stuttgart managed only a 1-0 away against FC Middlesborough, not enough to advance after Middlesborough won 2-1 in the first leg. Hertha continued its downward spiral. The Berliners had not managed a goal in the last five UEFA Cup matches.
Stuttgart fought hard, but didn't come up with enough goals
On Thursday night, they fell quietly to Rapid Bucuresti, ensuring that soccer molehill, Romania, will have as many representatives, two, as Germany in the next round.