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 Posted by ESPN Staff
May 12, 2006

Hamburg missing Van der Vaart for Bremen clash

BERLIN, May 12 (Reuters) - Hamburg SV will be without inspirational playmaker Rafael van der Vaart for Saturday's Bundesliga showdown for second place against Werder Bremen.

HSV hold a one-point lead over Bremen and can clinch a Champions League spot behind Bayern Munich, crowned champions last week, with a home draw against their third-placed rivals.

But they will have to do it without Van der Vaart.

'Rafael does not have enough strength back to help us and we don't want to take any chances,' said HSV coach Thomas Doll.

The Dutch midfielder had an operation last month to remove a screw from an injured ankle.

He resumed training this week and said the ankle no longer hurt, for the first time in weeks, but fears risking another injury before the World Cup finals.

'Naturally, at the end of the season you're a bit afraid (about injuries) because of the World Cup,' said van der Vaart, the key to HSV's rise from mid-table despite playing only 18 of 33 matches.

The top two qualify directly for the Champions League while the third-placed team goes into the qualifying round.

Hamburg and Bremen chased Bayern all season but stumbled each time they closed in on them.

Hamburg's last hope of catching Bayern died when they squandered a 2-1 lead at Hertha Berlin last week and lost 4-2 leaving Bayern with a six-point lead and their 20th title.

Bremen, who crushed Cologne 6-0 last week, are hoping to extend an excellent run that has seen them beat Bayern 3-0 and remain unbeaten since March 18.

They have won four and drawn two of their last six outings and came away with a 1-1 from Bremen last December.

Wolfsburg host Kaiserslautern in a relegation decider with a one-point lead over their opponents and need a draw to avoid the drop in front of 30,000 fans at their sold-out stadium.

Kaiserslautern, however, are unbeaten in their last three matches and nearly upset Bayern last week before the champions scored to gain a 1-1 draw.

'We've got a mental advantage,' said Kaiserslautern striker Halil Altintop, making his final appearance before joining his brother at Schalke 04 next season. 'Our younger players have proved they can stand the pressure.'

Kaiserslautern have been fighting relegation all season and have been stuck in the bottom three since the 11th round of the 34-game season while Wolfsburg have not been in the drop zone.

Bottom club MSV Duisburg and Cologne have already been relegated from the 18-team first division.

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