Bundesliga: Bayern on brink after Stuttgart win

April 27, 2008

BERLIN, April 27 (Reuters) - Bayern Munich beat VfB Stuttgart 4-1 on Sunday to move 12 points clear in the Bundesliga with only one point required from their last four games to seal a 21st German title.

Luca Toni scored his 36th goal in 42 matches in the eighth minute. Antonio da Silva equalised nine minutes later before Mark van Bommel fired in a superb low shot that curled around the wall off an indirect free kick in the 55th minute.

Bayern coach Ottmar Hitzfeld had rested Franck Ribery along with four other first team players ahead of a semi-final second leg UEFA Cup match on Thursday at Zenit St Petersburg.

However, he decided to send Ribery on in the 57th minute and the France playmaker scored twice within two minutes.

Ribery blasted a spectacular long-range shot into the top right corner beyond the fingertips of keeper Raphael Schaefer in the 75th minute and then beat two Stuttgart defenders before firing in a crisp shot with his weaker left foot.

'He comes off the bench and shows his class right away,' said Hitzfeld, who also sent in Ze Roberto for the final 23 minutes to tune up for St Petersburg. 'Two ball artists go in and Ribery scores two dream goals.'

Hitzfeld made it clear that reaching the UEFA Cup final was the top priority on Sunday with the Bundesliga all but wrapped up. 'I'm glad I rested Ribery. He was hugely motivated when he came in off the bench,' he said.

Bayern, who drew 1-1 at home with Zenit St Petersburg last week, lead the Bundesliga with 66 points. They won the German Cup last Saturday.

'It's good we didn't clinch the championship now because there would have been too much celebrating and we wouldn't have been able to concentrate on the hard match at St Petersburg,' Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said.

Rummenigge and sporting director Uli Hoeness told Premiere Television the players had rejected their offer to hold a small celebration if they clinched the Bundesliga because they wanted to focus on the UEFA Cup match on Thursday.

'They rejected any kind of a celebration,' Hoeness said. 'They didn't want even a small party now because they want to win at St Petersburg. That really impressed me. It shows the character of the team, it shows what a great spirit they have.'

Werder Bremen are second with 54 points after losing ground on Saturday with a 3-3 draw at Karlsruhe. Schalke 04 are third, also with 54 points, after beating Hamburg SV 1-0 on Saturday.

Hitzfeld said it was hard to imagine Bayern squandering the Bundesliga championship now with a 12-point lead and four matches left -- along with a superior 20-goal advantage over second place Werder Bremen.

'The team showed a lot of character once again,' Hitzfeld told Premiere Televsion. 'We believe we can win every match with five or six fresh players coming in. We'd be on our last legs if we had to play so many matches with the same 11 players.'