Bayern look to towering Toni for UEFA Cup rescue
MUNICH, Germany, April 25 (Reuters) - Bayern Munich coach Ottmar Hitzfeld was upbeat despite his heavily fancied team being held to a 1-1 home draw with Zenit St Petersburg in their UEFA Cup semi-final on Thursday.
There was one very big reason for Hitzfeld's seeming lack of concern -- Luca Toni.
The 1.94-metre (6-foot, 4-inch) Italy striker, who has been on a goal-scoring tear with 35 goals in 41 matches in all competitions, was suspended for the home leg but will be back in the line-up for the return leg on May 1 in St Petersburg.
'Luca Toni is a world champion and one of the best in the business,' Hitzfeld told a news conference late on Thursday. 'He's obviously extremely difficult to replace.
'We're always able to score a goal or two away and besides that we've got Luca Toni back in the lineup.'
Hitzfeld had hoped Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose would be able to fill the gap left by Toni, who had scored eight goals in Bayern's last four matches and rescued them from elimination in the quarter-finals with two goals in the final five minutes of extra time at Getafe.
Toni, top of the UEFA Cup scoring table with 10 goals and leading the Bundesliga with 20, helped the club win the German Cup last Saturday and, with a 10-point lead, to the brink of the Bundesliga championship with five rounds left.
But the two German strikers were unable to find the net against Zenit despite plenty of chances, leaving the 66,000 Bayern fans longing for Toni and his uncanny ability to be in the right spot at the right time.
'We had enough chances to win, especially late in the match when we had three or four good chances,' said Hitzfeld. 'I think our chances of advancing to the final are still good. We're strong away from home.'
With the German Cup already in the bag and their 21st German championship within their sights, Bayern have now focussed their energies on winning the UEFA Cup for a second time after 1996 in order to complete an unprecedented treble.
Winning the three titles was the club's unabashed goal this season after failing to qualify for the Champions League or the first time in over a decade.
'I'm still optimistic we can reach the final,' said Hitzfeld, who is stepping down at the end of the season to coach Switzerland after the Euro 2008.