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Sports

Top Trio March Ahead in Bundesliga

Bremen and Hamburg overcame early deficits against weaker adversaries to stay within shouting range of league leaders Bayern Munich. The emotional Ruhr derby between Schalke and Dortmund ended in a scoreless draw.

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Celebrations this season are nothing new for title holders Munich

Defending champions Bayern Munich did just enough to walk away with a 1-0 victory against Bayer Leverkusen on Saturday. Captain Michael Ballack scored the lone goal in the unspectacular game at the sold-out Allianz Arena with a spectacular left-footed blast in the 36th minute. The lead came after some shaky moments in the first half-hour.

Only minutes before, the German international headed a ball just over the box on a cross from defender Willi Sagnol. As for Leverkusen, they had some clear chances in the first 45 minutes, most notably Tranquillo Barnetta excellent chance in the 30th minute, but failed to create any pressure in the second half to threaten the title holders.

"We can be happy that we didn't fall behind early," commented Bayern coach Felix Magath. "The lead certainly was good for us. Then we could control the game better."

Bayern also control the league, resting on 50 points after 19 matches, far ahead of nearest rival Bremen.

Bremen , Hamburg come from behind

Werder Bremen vs. FSV Mainz

Eye on the ball, ball in the net for Ivan Klasnic against Mainz

Second-place Bremen came in for a shock in the first minute of their home match against 13th-placed Mainz. The guests kicked off by simply hammering the ball towards Bremen's penalty area.

When defenders Frank Fahrenhorst and Naldo did everything possible to get in each other's way, Niclas Weiland tangled up with Bremen goal keeper Andreas Reinke and the ball sprung free. Mohamed Zidan, on loan from Bremen this season, lobbed the leather home and after 14 seconds -- one of the quickest goals in Bundesliga history -- Mainz led 1-0. Weiland doubled the lead in the 13th minute.

When the shock wore off some twenty minutes later, Nelson Valdez found the net to halve Mainz' lead. Johan Micoud and Ivan Klasnic then scored long into injury time to amazingly give Bremen the lead at half-time. Valdez again scored in the second half and the northerners remain eight points back of the Bavarians.

Hamburg equally had problems in the first half of their match against Bielefeld. Issac Boakye put the visitors up in the 26th minute but Piotr Trochowski and veteran striker Sergej Barbarez struck in the second half to give Hamburg coach Thomas Doll a victory after last week's bitter away loss at Nuremberg.

Ruhr derby yawner

FC Schalke 04 vs. Borussia Dortmund

Schalke's Sand (middle) and Dortmund's Wörns battle in 0-0 Ruhr derby

A highlight Bundesliga match in any season is the Ruhr valley derby between Schalke and Dortmund. The expectations were high heading into the contest. The Royal Blues wanted to put some padding between them and fifth-place Berlin while Dortmund were hoping to pull themselves closer to European competition next year. Fans on both sides at the Veltins Arena were spared any excessive emotional outpourings and were treated to a scoreless draw.

Cologne, languishing in second-to-last place, played at home for the first time for their new coach Hanspeter Latour. Against Stuttgart, they played with great resolve but less talent and also left the pitch with a 0-0 draw.

Kaiserslautern continue to pull up rear

Eintracht Frankfurt vs. Hertha BSC Berlin

Frankfurt's goalie Nikolov can only crawl to retrieve what was the go-ahead goal

Duisburg surprised Stuttgart last week with a 1-0 victory under new coach Jürgen Kohler, so it seemed a home win against last-place Kaiserslautern would be possible. Referee Felix Brych was obliging to the "Zebras" by not calling offsides on Markus Kurth on a goal in the 40th minute.

In the 61st minute, he unjustifiably gave a spot kick to Duisburg, which Mihai Tararache converted. Kaiserslautern showed class under the circumstances and 18-year old substitute Daniel Halfar scored twice in five minutes to give the "Red Devils" a deserved draw.

In the final Saturday contest, Hertha Berlin gratefully left Frankfurt with a point after a 1-1 draw. The goalscorers were Kevin Boateng for Berlin and Jermaine Jones for Frankfurt who clearly had the best chances in this game.

On Sunday, Wolfsburg host Mönchengladbach and Nuremberg travel to Hanover.

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