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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Dec 17, 2006

Werder are 'winter champs' after Wolfsburg win

BERLIN, Dec 17 (Reuters) - Werder Bremen beat VfL Wolfsburg 2-1 on Sunday with a blistering free kick from Brazilian defender Naldo in the 86th minute to claim the Bundesliga's unofficial 'winter championship'.

Werder, the league's top-scoring side with 47 goals, won the league championship three of the last five times they were first at the halfway point before the Bundesliga's long winter break -- including in 2003/04 when they last won the championship.

In the last four seasons and 30 of the previous 43, the team leading at the winter break has won the championship.

Werder and second-placed Schalke 04, who beat Arminia Bielefeld 1-0 away on Saturday, are both on 36 points, but Bremen are far ahead on goal difference.

Champions Bayern Munich, who crushed Mainz 4-0 away, are third on 33 points, ahead of VfB Stuttgart who slipped to fourth on 32 points after a goalless draw at Energie Cottbus.

'We fought hard when we had to and played well enough to win,' Werder coach Thomas Schaaf told Arena television.

'It was difficult against a team with a packed defence like Wolfsburg. We were patient and kept the pressure on them. We had enough chances earlier to get the lead back but getting it right at the end makes it all the more exciting.'

Denmark's Daniel Jensen put Werder ahead in the 17th minute with a spectacular bicycle kick, falling backwards to blast in a shot off a partially deflected Miroslav Klose cross that sailed between two Wolfsburg defenders and beat keeper Simon Jentzsch.

But Werder, whose 47 goals are the most in the first 17 matches since thier 50 in 1985/86, were unable to build on the lead like they have done so often this season.

Playmaker Diego was awarded a controversial penalty in the 34th minute. Television replays showed he appeared to be brushed by a Wolfsburg defender before falling. Diego took the spot kick himself but his shot hit the left post.

'You can't win when you're playing against 12 or 13 men,' Wolfsburg coach Klaus Augenthaler said controversially.

Wolfsburg, who had scored just 11 goals but conceded a league low of only 14 in their previous 16 matches, got the equaliser four minutes before the break when Isaac Boakye superbly lobbed Bremen goalkeeper Tim Wiese.

Both sides had second half chances. Jentzsch just managed to punch away a Naldo free kick in the 68th minute.

One week after scoring three in Bremen's 6-2 win at Frankfurt, Naldo got his sixth goal of the season four minutes from time with another wicked blast -- this one from 30 metres out that curled around the wall and inside the right post.

To celebrate the coveted winter championship, Werder players put on red Father Christmas outfits after the match with the words 'Christmas champions 2006' emblazoned on the backs.

In Sunday's other match, Bayer Leverkusen won 2-1 at Borussia Dortmund.