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By ESPN Staff
Dec 4, 2006

Bremen aim to break Barca hearts

When Barcelona and Chelsea were drawn in the same group of the Champions League a few months ago, there was a natural assumption that they would both progress without any difficulty, especially when the teams following them out of the hat were Werder Bremen and Levski Sofia.

Three months on, and everything looks different. Chelsea have qualified, but last year's winners, Barcelona, are in serious danger of slipping out of the competition; anything less than a win in their final group game against Werder Bremen will see the Catalan giants drop into the UEFA Cup, and into obscurity, for a year at least.

Bremen's manager Thomas Schaaf, himself a Bundesliga veteran with the German club, was also surprised at the way things have turned out in the group.

'It's really a big surprise,' he says. 'Everybody said that the top two spots would be Chelsea and Barcelona, with maybe Werder Bremen fighting with Sofia for third place.

'It's also a big surprise for everybody to see how we are playing,' he adds. 'But this is not a surprise for us because we don't think so much about rankings, we are more thinking about the qualities. We have the confidence to say we want to go into the match and then see what happens. We know also that we have a good team.'

With Bremen sitting comfortably behind Chelsea, having beaten the group leaders 1-0, and two points ahead of Barcelona, all the German side have to do is to avoid defeat against arguably the best team on the planet.

'We have seen in the last season, and the last years in the Champions League, that we can make trouble for big teams,' Schaaf says.

'We want to win [against Barcelona] - that's our direction,' he adds. 'We don't go into this match to play for a draw. We want to fight with them, and not only to fight, we want to play our style of soccer, and I think we are doing very well.'

Whatever the result, Schaaf has certainly enjoyed his time in the biggest competition in Europe, and it certainly hasn't taken the focus away from their domestic campaign. As the form team in the league, they lie top of the Bundesliga and are in prime position for Champions League qualification again next year.

'I don't know if every year I can see us in the Champions League', he laughs. 'At the moment it's very fun, it's very good. We have a good team, and the club are looking good for next year. We want to come back in the Champions League each year and want to play with the best teams.

'At the moment we have the level to play good matches. But now we want to fight in the last match in the group, and we hope also that we go on, not only in the UEFA Cup [if they lose], but also in the Champions League.'

And Barcelona certainly aren't taking the challenge lightly. Resting Ronaldinho for the weekend's draw against Levante, the Spanish champions have been surprisingly below par so far in the competition, and are treating their final game with the respect it deserves.

'It's like a mini-champions league final really,' says Eidur Gudjohnsen, who has been thrust into the spotlight with injuries to leading strikers Samuel Eto'o and Lionel Messi. 'We're the holders of the Cup, and you can sense how much it means to the people.

'I think we have to be very concentrated because they're a team that fights all the way, they've got strong players with a lot of running ability, and they seem to be willing to work for each other so we're going to have to be patient.'

No stranger to teams coming to the Nou Camp and trying to grab a win on the counter, Gudjohnsen is sure Barcelona have what it takes to make it through to the next round.

'We're used to teams playing behind the ball and trying to find gaps,' he says. 'We just have to make sure we play at a high tempo and keep the pressure on as much as possible.

'It's all in our hands, we just have to keep doing what we are doing. It's very important - not a matter of life and death, but it's close to it,' he adds with a smile.

If Barcelona fail to win, however, no-one will be smiling at the Nou Camp for a long time.