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German, Ukrainian clubs fight for UEFA Cup honors

Domestic pride will be at stake in Europe when Ukrainian and German clubs battle against each other in the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup in first-leg matches on Thursday.

Hamburg's Alex Silva, left, and Bremen's Diego

Diego, right, is the bright spark of Bremen's midfield

Ukrainian powerhouses Dynamo Kiev and Shakhtar Donetsk meet for the right to play the final in Istanbul on May 20 against the winner of the encounter between German rivals Werder Bremen and SV Hamburg.

The match in Bremen is the second of four duels between the two northern rivals - only some 100 kilometers apart - within 19 days.

Last week they clashed in the semi-finals of the Germany's DFB Cup when Bremen got the upper hand in a penalty shoot-out.

But Hamburg won't mind if they repeat last Wednesday's 1-1 score after regular time as a tie would be a good result to take back home for next week's second leg.

Tale of two clubs

Hamburg are still in the Bundesliga title race despite a 2-0 defeat to Borussia Dortmund on Saturday as they begin to emerge from the shadow of their neighbors, who have had a poor league season.

Hamburg sit fourth in the Bundesliga, while Bremen languish in 10th.

The northern German club's last major title came in 1987 when it won the DFB Cup. That success came four seasons after Hamburg were crowned European champions. Bremen's track record, meanwhile, has been an image of comparative success. In the same timeframe the club has won three German league titles, four cup titles, the European Cup Winners' Cup and been a regular Champions League qualifier.

Despite the differences in long-term success, Hamburg will make the short trip to Bremen in good heart knowing they have done well on their travels in Europe this season. Until losing at Manchester City in the previous round, they had won five of their six games.

"Everyone knows that little things will be decisive against Bremen," their Dutch coach Martin Jol said. "We know them and they know us, so there's nothing new there."

Ins and outs

Mladen Petric

Petric's attacking prowess will be sorely missed on Thursday

Jol will be without top scorer Mladen Petric, who required stitches to a gashed shin but hopes to be fit for the second leg, and defender Marcell Jansen, who has failed to recover from bruised ribs, the club said on Wednesday.

Forward Jonathan Pitroipa has, however, recovered from a hip problem and Brazilian Axel Silva is also available for a possible defensive midfield role again after he was allowed to miss the match against Dortmund for personal reasons.

Bremen should also be close to full strength, with captain Frank Baumann on the way back following a muscle complaint.

Much could depend on the form of Bremen's Brazilian midfielder Diego, whom Bremen confirmed Wednesday was being pursued by Juventus.

"If we again play our game then we will win," Diego said.

First meeting

The two Ukrainian powerhouses have been carving up the league title between them in recent years but have never met in European competition.

No Ukrainian team has ever reached the final of the UEFA Cup, and for Donetsk, who eliminated Olympique Marseille in the quarters, the semi-finals of a European competition is unchartered territory.

Dynamo Kiev, who beat Paris St Germain in the previous round, do have European pedigree, having twice won the Cup Winners' Cups and having made the semi-finals of the European Cup or Champions League three times.

The Ukrainian league leaders already eliminated one Ukrainian side in Metalist Kharkiv, who they beat on away goals in the last 16 after a 1-0 home win was followed up by a 3-2 defeat away.

Shakhtar's Romanian coach Mircea Lucescu already has one eye on the second leg with concerns over his side's Olympiysky stadium pitch.

"The pitch at Olimpiysky is destroying our play," he was reported as saying. "As a coach, I feel ashamed to make my players perform on a pitch like this."

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