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Jan 26, 2003

Bayern stretch lead with victory

BERLIN, Jan 26 (Reuters) - Bayern Munich stretched their lead at the top of the German first division to eight points with a 3-0 victory over Borussia Moenchengladbach on Sunday.

Bayern, reduced to chasing domestic glory after bowing out of Europe, moved nearer to yet another Bundesliga crown after their two closest followers failed to win on Saturday.

Werder Bremen climbed one spot to second with a 2-2 draw at home to Arminia Bielefeld, while champions Borussia Dortmund dropped to third, a further point adrift, with a 2-1 defeat at Hertha Berlin.

England midfielder Owen Hargreaves showed Bayern the way in the 25th minute, firing home from 14 metres out for his first Bundesliga goal.

Strikers Alexander Zickler and Elber completed the victory with a goal each in the last five minutes.

'It was important for us to have a good start,' Bayern coach Ottmar Hitzfeld said after his team's first match following the winter break.

'We played with plenty of discipline, combined well at times and did not allow our opponents many scoring opportunities,' he added.

LEVERKUSEN SLUMP

Troubled Bayer Leverkusen returned to action with an embarrassing 3-0 home defeat by bottom club Energie Cottbus earlier on Sunday.

Last season's runners-up reached a new low in a torrid season with a shock result that made coach Klaus Toppmoeller's situation even less comfortable.

Leverkusen, who also reached the Champions League and German Cup finals last season, remained a miserable 14th in the 18-strong league after losing to opponents who had won only two league games all season.

Goals from midfielder Marco Gebhardt and Bosnian striker Marko Topic gave the visitors a 2-0 lead at the interval. Polish striker Andrzej Juskowiak inflicted further punishment on the home side with five minutes remaining.

The return of defender and captain Jens Nowotny from eight months on the sidelines with a knee injury failed to boost a lacklustre Leverkusen team, whose fans started to whistle and boo after just 30 minutes and kept it up until the end.

'We put them under pressure in the opening stages but then conceded that silly goal,' Toppmoeller said, referring to a blunder from goalkeeper Hans-Joerg Butt that helped Cottbus open the scoring.

'Now we're clearly facing a battle against relegation,' he added. 'At the moment we're playing well under our potential. We have quite a few players out injured and I'm sure we'll play better football once we get them back.'

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