Previous
Dinamo Moscow
PSV Eindhoven
ESPN3 3:00 PM GMT
Game Details
Krasnodar
Everton
ESPN3 4:00 PM GMT
Game Details
Feyenoord Rotterdam
Standard Liege
ESPN3 5:00 PM GMT
Game Details
Rijeka
Sevilla FC
5:00 PM GMT
Game Details
VfL Wolfsburg
Lille
5:00 PM GMT
Game Details
Slovan Bratislava
Napoli
5:00 PM GMT
Game Details
Sparta Prague
BSC Young Boys
5:00 PM GMT
Game Details
AaB
Rio Ave
5:00 PM GMT
Game Details
Dynamo Kiev
Steaua Bucuresti
5:00 PM GMT
Game Details
Dinamo Minsk
Fiorentina
5:00 PM GMT
Game Details
Guingamp
PAOK Salonika
5:00 PM GMT
Game Details
KSC Lokeren
Metalist Kharkiv
5:00 PM GMT
Game Details
Trabzonspor
Legia Warsaw
5:00 PM GMT
Game Details
FC Zürich
Borussia Monchengladbach
7:05 PM GMT
Game Details
Villarreal
Apollon Limassol
ESPN3 7:05 PM GMT
Game Details
HJK Helsinki
Club Brugge
7:05 PM GMT
Game Details
Torino
FC Copenhagen
ESPN3 7:05 PM GMT
Game Details
Asteras Tripoli
Partizan Belgrade
7:05 PM GMT
Game Details
Tottenham Hotspur
Besiktas
7:05 PM GMT
Game Details
Celtic
Dinamo Zagreb
7:05 PM GMT
Game Details
FK Astra Giurgiu
SV Salzburg
7:05 PM GMT
Game Details
Estoril
Panathinaikos
7:05 PM GMT
Game Details
Internazionale
FK Qarabag
ESPN3 7:05 PM GMT
Game Details
St Etienne
Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk
7:05 PM GMT
Game Details
Philadelphia Union
Chicago Fire
ESPN2 12:00 AM GMT
Game Details
Toluca
Guadalajara
1:00 AM GMT
Game Details
Douglas Haig
Argentinos Juniors
10:10 PM GMT
Game Details
Ferro Carril Oeste
San Martín de San Juan
11:00 PM GMT
Game Details
Palmeiras
Chapecoense AF
10:30 PM GMT
Game Details
Cienciano del Cusco
San Martin
4:00 PM GMT
Game Details
Sport Huancayo
Juan Aurich
6:15 PM GMT
Game Details
UTC
Melgar
8:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Alianza Lima
San Simón
12:30 AM GMT
Game Details
Rubio Ñú
12 de Octubre
9:00 PM GMT
Game Details
Cerro Porteño
Sol de América
11:00 PM GMT
Game Details
Bolívar
Universitario de Pando
7:00 PM GMT
Game Details
Nacional Potosí
Real Potosí
12:00 AM GMT
Game Details
Universitario de Sucre
Sport Boys Warnes
12:00 AM GMT
Game Details
Blooming
Wilstermann
12:30 AM GMT
Game Details
Deportes Quindío
Independiente Santa Fe
12:30 AM GMT
Leg 1
Game Details
Atlético Nacional
Deportes Tolima
12:45 AM GMT
Leg 1
Game Details
Next

Introducing Mr. White Hart Lane

The Toe Poke about an hour ago
Read
Oct 8, 2003

This season's dark horses

Nine days ago, Stuttgart had a little training exercise officially known as a league match at 1860 Munich.

Yet again, coach Felix Magath pencilled in the 19-year-old Philipp Lahm as the left-back, despite the fact the kid is right-footed and was signed to be the stand-in for Andreas Hinkel on the right side.

It was just that Lahm was doing really well and that it would have been grossly unfair to keep him on the bench only because his natural position had already been filled, you know.

That's not saying Magath is always fair: Against 1860, he had the Hungarian Imre Szabics (22) partnering Kevin Kuranyi (21) upfront, even though new arrival Cacau (22) had looked fine in his five matches so far, scoring twice.

In any case, Lahm made Stuttgart's first goal, Szabics won the penalty that led to the second, then Aliaksandr Hleb (22) added a third with forty minutes to go. The Swabians knocked the ball around a bit, created a few more scoring opportunities, then ran the clock down. Piece of cake, 3-0, first place in the league.

After the match, a reporter approached Felix Magath and said: 'Don't you think it's time you do something to dampen the enthusiasm around here? All that success could go to people's heads.' Magath eyed the journalist for a few seconds, then he replied: 'No. Not yet. I will have to do something after we have beaten Manchester United on Wednesday.'

Magath isn't a braggart, far from it. He's a clever, very considered man, a chess fanatic since 1978, when he went down with hepatitis and whiled the time away immersing himself in the mind game between Karpov and Korchnoi, who were contesting the World Championship at that time. And Magath isn't a joker, either. He's got a sense of humour and a nice, mischievous smile, but he takes football very seriously and won't fire off one-liners just for the heck of it.

What made him boldly predict a victory over United is difficult to say. Maybe he sensed his young squad was in awe of the upcoming opponent and needed a boost or a jolt. More likely, however, is something else, namely that it's just the way things are at Stuttgart at the moment. The club is on the up, the team is on a roll, the coach can do no wrong. Self-confidence breeds on itself.

Stuttgart followed their 2-1 over United with a scoreless draw at home against Cologne, but even that slightly meagre result could be and was sold as a success: 'We just couldn't put the ball away', said Magath, 'and these things happen. The fact that we're still unbeaten, despite the euphoria that followed the Manchester game proves we have a firm and resolute character.'

Losing battle: Manchester United now know all about VfB Stuttgart.
Losing battle: Manchester United now know all about VfB Stuttgart.

That was no empty rhetoric. I don't think I have ever seen a league leader grind out a 0-0 at home against the last-placed team ­ and still being cheered by a sell-out crowd of 52,000. Of course that was largely because, with 69 minutes gone, the scoreboard informed the supporters that goalkeeper Timo Hildebrand had just set a new league record by going 804 minutes without conceding a Bundesliga goal, surpassing the mark Oliver Kahn had set only last season. (The last man to put one past Hildebrand in the league was Giovane Elber, on May17.)

Needless to say, Stuttgart have also set a new record as a team by going the first eight matches of the season without allowing a goal. However, that's already old hat, because the former record was only a silly four matches. (Even United's goal, you may recall, was scored from a penalty, and a soft one at that.)

I shall not bore you again with the story about Stuttgart's very unlikely rise from the doldrums despite a severely weakened bank account, as I have already done that back in February.

That was when I argued Magath should have won the 'Coach of the Year' award instead of Klaus Toppmöller. Well, he finally did that a few months later, but I'm not here to say 'I-told-you-so', I'm here to say 'how-could-I-have-known'...: Like many others, I was fairly sure the Swabians' fairy-tale would reach its final chapter sooner rather than later.

For instance, after Dortmund had gambled away their second place in the league on the last day of the season, there was a theory that said this was a much better outcome for German football because star-studded Dortmund stood a far greater chance of surving the qualifying round for the Champions League than inexperienced, overachieving Stuttgart. Yeah, sure.

The idea was that, first, Stuttgart would not again surprise any opponent with their youthful exuberance and what-me-bother attacking football.

Second, Aliaksandr Hleb would replace the retired Krassimir Balakov in creative midfield, and while Hleb is a marvellous dribbler, he is no playmaker.

Third, the double strain of Champions League and Bundesliga would prove too much for Stuttgart's youngsters.

Hildebrand: Currently unbeatable
Hildebrand: Currently unbeatable

However, the problem with this sensible theory was that Magath had something else in mind. For the first game of the new season, his team went to Rostock to stun everyone.

To begin with, the new man in the hole was the veteran Horst Heldt (33), while Hleb wasn't even on the pitch. Then Stuttgart used a diamond formation in midfield, with Zvonimir Soldo (35) as the holding player.

When the opposition had the ball, Jurica Vranjes swiftly dropped back to play alongside Soldo, and instead of youthful exuberance there was an impenetrable fortress. Rostock ran themselves ragged for an hour, then Magath brought on Szabics, who scored twice. And that was that.

I can't tell you how Magath managed to smoothly move from one style to another, because footballers, especially young ones, aren't chess pieces that will play any opening your will dictates.

All I can say is that if Stuttgart still have a clean sheet after their next game (away to Bremen, who have scored 21 goals in eight games), then I will no longer put anything beyond this team.


  • Uli's history of German football, Tor!, published by WSC Books, is available through Sportsbooksdirect.

  • Any thoughts? Email us