26 March 2004
HAMBURG – Werder Bremen can all but wrap up their fourth Bundesliga title on Sunday night if they do well at VfB Stuttgart, the last team to beat them in the league more than five months ago.
Bremen are on an undefeated run of 16 games since losing 3-1 at home to then leaders Stuttgart on 18 October 2003.
They have built an 11-point lead over champions Bayern Munich, while Stuttgart are third with a 14-point deficit on the Northern Germans, but only three points behind Bayern.
Werder won 1-0 in Stuttgart last season and the meeting before that ended 0-0.
Either result would suit them fine this time around, but caution still prevails at the club.
“There is still a long way to go,” said coach Thomas Schaaf with nine games left in the season.
After all, there is not only joy in the Bremen camp with Werder Bremen sports director Klaus Allofs on Thursday forced to dismiss a report that French playmaker Johan Micoud was set to leave Werder Bremen at the latest after the completion of his contract next year.
Kicker sports magazine said that Micoud, 30, had told Allofs in a personal meeting that there will be no talks about a contract extension.
But Allofs said: “These personal talks happen frequently, but he definitely didn’t tell me that.”
The report also said that an unnamed Premier League club had expressed interest in signing Micoud in summer and was soon expected to make a formal offer.
Allofs confirmed that Bremen had received no offer so far, but did not want to rule out that Micoud had been approached.
Micoud has made no public statement on his future, saying he wants to complete the season first. Allofs expressed his optimism that the star player will stay on.
“There are signals that he plans to renew his contract,” said Allofs.
Should he leave, it would be a bad blow for Bremen, who lose league top scorer Ailton and Mladen Krstajic to Schalke in summer.
Bremen have signed Germany striker Miroslav Klose for the new season to make up for Ailton’s departure. Allofs also confirmed that Bremen were still after Belgian forward Emile Mpenza.
Any problems in the Bremen camp will delight the opposition as a defeat in Stuttgart is seen as the very last chance to make the title race interesting again.
“We will beat Bremen,” vowed Silvio Meissner.
Stuttgart need the points in their effort to snatch second place and with it direct qualification for the Champions League from Bayern.
Munich, meanwhile, host lowly Borussia Moenchengladbach amid plenty of talk about the form of playmaker Michael Ballack and the future of coach Ottmar Hitzfeld beyond the season.
“I believe I will complete my contract until 2005,” said Hitzfeld, who did not want to comment on a statement from chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge that Munich had not made up their mind yet on the issue.
In other action, Eintracht Frankfurt play their first of five games without coach Willi Reimann against fellow-strugglers 1860 Munich.
Reimann was banned from the sidelines for shoving a match official during last week’s game in Dortmund. He was also fined 25,000 euros.
In other Saturday action, Hansa Rostock meet VfL Wolfsburg, Bayer Leverkusen play Hertha Berlin, VfL Bochum host neighbours Schalke 04, Borussia Dortmund are at Hanover 96 and SC Freiburg take on bottom club Cologne. SV Hamburg host Kaiserslautern on Sunday.
Subject: German news