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Sports

Lots Riding on Ruhr Valley Derby

We know who the champion is. The fight against relegation is practically fruitless. But, the 33rd week in the Bundesliga features one of the fiercest derbies currently running in German soccer -- Dortmund vs. Schalke.

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A familiar picture for Schalke recently when they play Dortmund

Two months ago, nobody would have believed that Dortmund's (eighth place, 49 points) second to last match would have such great implications. After 24 games, coach Bert van Marwijk's side had managed to drag itself away from the relegation struggle but were fighting teams like Bielefeld and Hanover for the dubious honor called "Best of the Mediocre."

But now the Ruhr Valley derby with archenemy Schalke has taken on meaning for both squads. Schalke want to assure themselves a spot in the Champions League competition next season. Dortmund, after a strong run the the last eight weeks, still have an outside chance at reaching the Uefa Cup.

Dortmund fans, management and players have one thing on their mind -- stopping a twelve game winless streak against their bitter rivals.

"I've been thinking about only one thing for days -- how we can win at Schalke," veteran defender Christian Wörns told Sport-Bild. "This victory is more important than any other for our fans this season."

Dortmund's chances have improved immensely. Royal Blues' coach Ralf Rangnick will not have the services of fullback Mladen Krstajic nor his team's captain, goalie Frank Rost. Nevertheless, he knows his side realizes the importance of the match.

"We can defend second place with a win," Rangnick says on the Schalke Web site. "That's all the motivation we need to do everything we can to win the game."

Former champs have easier task

Werder Bremen are no longer Bundesliga champions. The polish from last season when they played exciting and eye-catching soccer has long been tarnished. Now they are struggling to retain a spot in the Uefa Cup. Last week they lost a hard-fought match against Dortmund. This week they welcome last place Freiburg. There's no reason to think that they can't repeat their 6-0 pasting of the southwestern club in the first leg and take an important step in playing in international club competition next season.

Stuttgart pulled off a 1-0 victory in the waning minutes against Hanover last week -- a huge win in their quest at chasing down Schalke for second place. Matthias Sammer's club face Bochum who mathematically have a chance to stay in the first division but must score some goals in a big manner to do so. Bochum are simply playing the role of the spoiler and can send off coach Peter Neururer, who will not accompany the team to the second division, as a winner in his last home match.

Another club in the hunt for a berth in European competition is Leverkusen. They travel to Wolfsburg, a place where Klaus Augenthaler's club has had relatively little success. Of seven matches in the auto city, they have walked away losers six times. The team has shown lots of fight the last few weeks after they finally realized what's at stake, noted Augenthaler. Erik Gerets' Wolfsburg are fighting for the highest spot amongst the mediocre, far short of their European ambitions at mid-season.

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