Champions Werder Bremen take on Schalke 04 in the opening game of the 2004/05 Bundesliga season as they begin the defense of the title they won so convincingly last term.
Bremen hopes to duplicate last year's success
Outsiders for any silverware at the start of last year's campaign, Bremen went on to capture their first German championship in 11 years after a 23-game unbeaten run to the title. Their fourth Bundesliga success was converted into a double-winning season with victory also in the German League Cup final.
Many people expected Bayern Munich to win a record-breaking 19th Bundesliga title last season but the form book was ripped up when Bremen swept everyone away to secure the championship.
The man to watch
Bremen's Brazilian forward Ailton was named top scorer
This season, the man whose goals helped Bremen to the title will line up for the opposition in the season opener. All eyes will be on last year's top scorer, the Brazilian Ailton (photo), who will attempt to shoot down his former team mates while wearing the royal blue of Schalke. Another Bremen man gunning for his former employers is Mladen Krstajic, who followed the Brazilian to Gelsenkirchen in the close season.
After the departure of Ailton and Krstajic, Bremen coach Thomas Schaaf will hope new sign-on Miroslav Klose can replicate the Brazilian's prolific goal-scoring alongside Greek hero and European Champion Angelos Charisteas in the Bremen attack.
Hoping for strong opener
Bremen already tasted defeat at the feet of Bayern Munich's stars in the pre-season German Cup Final. Schaaf will be hoping that it doesn't take his champions as long to wake up in the opening game against Schalke as it did for them to start firing on Monday. Bayern were 3-0 up in just over an hour before Croatian striker Ivan Klasnic reduced the deficit on 68 minutes. French defender Valerien Ismael added a second just six minutes after that from the penalty spot.
Schalke 04 hopes for a strong start in the season.
Schalke fans will be hoping Ailton will do for their team what he did for Bremen and help the Royal Blues bring a historic end to the Gelsenkirchen club's centenary year. The last of Schalke's seven titles came way back in 1958. Although the club has secured major silverware in more recent years, winning the Bundesliga remains a distant memory.
It has not been for the lack of trying. In 2001, the Royal Blues thought they were champions only to be denied by an injury time goal in Bayern Munich's match which meant the title went to Bavaria instead.
This season, with a number of new faces, Schalke expects to be challenging for the title. The first game is always a confidence booster, but if Schalke can get one over the reigning champions on the opening day, their hopes -- and the hopes of all the other teams -- will be given fresh impetus.