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Who: Steaua Bucuresti vs. Bayern Munich
What: Champions League Group F Matchday 1
When: Wednesday, 17th September, 20:45 (CET)
Where: Stadionul Ghencea, Bucharest

High Ambitions  

Since an impressive stint in the 1980s that saw them lift the 1986 European Cup, Steaua Bucuresti have been unable to leave the group stage of European play, winning just four of their last 30 Champions’ League matches.  Ahead of tomorrow’s match, coach Marius Lacatus has told his team that third place is not enough, and that only a spot in the round of 16 will suffice.  

While Lacatus is looking forward to starting off well, he’ll have to do so without a laundry list of injured players, including Banel Nicolita, Ifeanyi Emeghara, Pawel Golanski, Janos Szekely, Mihaita Plesan, Ovidiu Petre, and captain Mirel Radoi.  

One thing that will be a huge benefit for the Romanian side is the fact that they are to play at the Stadionul Steaua, otherwise known as the Temple of Romanian Football.  In spite of its meager capacity of 27.557, many regard the Stadionul Steaua as one the most difficult stadiums to visit in Europe. 

On Wednesday, the stadium will surely be packed to capacity, and loyal Steaua fans will do their best to make the visitors uncomfortable.  

Obviously, Lacatus will not count on the fans to do the work for him; he has a fully capable squad that should cause Bayern difficulty.  The Steaua coach will likely field the same lineup that defeated FC Farul Constanta 4-1 on Saturday. 

With a five-man midfield and the home crowd behind them, Steaua will look to get off to a good start before Bayern can react to their surroundings.  An early goal is entirely possible, and would not only do wonders for Steaua’s confidence, but also solidify their defensive stance.

Bayern Back Where They Belong 

Bayern enter Wednesday’s match on a high note, having won 3-0 away to FC Köln on Saturday.  

One major question is whether coach Jürgen Klinsmann will opt to field the same lineup against Steaua that he has used in Bayern’s last two league matches.  If he does, it will all but confirm that Mark van Bommel has lost his captaincy at Bayern following his early sending off against Dortmund in Bundesliga Matchday 2. 

Either way, Klinsmann will probably field the same 3-5-2 formation that has had such great success for Bayern this season; the only question is whether van Bommel or Andreas Ottl will play in the holding midfield role.  

Klinsmann’s 3-5-2 may sound over-ambitious for such a high-profile away match, but his tactics make for a deceptively versatile formation.  With natural fullbacks Philipp Lahm and Christian Lell on the wings of midfield, Bayern are able to pull back on defense with an effective back line of five. 

At the same time, the Bavarians will be able to flood the midfield with five, or even six players, an important option against a Steaua team that also tends to play with five midfielders.  

In the UEFA Cup last year, most of Bayern’s shortcomings were the result of their being outplayed in the midfield.  With five men in the midfield supporting two strikers, that surely will not be the case against Steaua. 

Of course, this leaves a great amount of pressure on centre backs Daniel van Buyten, Martin Demichelis and Lucio, although those three formed an effective brick wall in defense against Köln, and appear to have won the full confidence of Klinsmann.  How Bayern’s back line will fare in the front of a hostile capacity crowd may prove the difference in their first Champions’ League appearance since early 2007.

FORM GUIDE  

Steaua Bucuresti  

9/13/08  Farul Constanta 1 Steaua 4  (Liga 1)

9/1/08  Steaua1 Pandurii Tg. Jiu 0  (Liga 1)

8/27/08  Steaua 1Galatasaray 0  (Champions League Qual.) 

8/23/08  Gloria Bistrita 2 Steaua 2  (Liga 1)

8/16/08  Steaua 2  FC Arges 0  (Liga 1)  

Bayern Munich  

9/13/08  1. FC Köln 0 Bayern 3  (Bundesliga) 

8/31/08  Bayern 4 Hertha Berlin 1  (Bundesliga) 

8/23/08  Borussia Dortmund 1 Bayern 1  (Bundesliga)

8/16/07  Bayern  2 Hamburger SV 2  (Bundesliga) 

8/10/08  Rot-Weiss Erfurt 3 Bayern 4  (DfB Cup)   

TEAM NEWS   

Steaua Bucuresti   

As mentioned above, Steaua are without the services of Banel Nicolita, Ifeanyi Emeghara, Pawel Golanski, Janos Szekely, Mihaita Plesan, Ovidiu Petre, and Mirel Radoi.  With Radoi out, centre back Sorin Ghoinea will deputize as captain.  

Probable Starting XI: Cernea – Marin, Ghionea, Goian, Ogararu – Toja, Gomes, Lovin, Semedo, Stancu - Bernhardt  

Bayern Munich   

Although there were rumors of a possible return for Franck Ribéry against Steaua, Klinsmann has confirmed that the French winger will have to wait until the weekend before he makes his return.  Ribéry will join Hamit Altintop and Willy Sagnol as definite absentees, the latter two recovering from foot and Achilles tendon injuries, respectively.   

Probable Starting XI: Rensing – van Buyten, Demichelis, Lucio – Lahm, Zé Roberto, van Bommel, Schweinsteiger, Lell – Klose, Toni  

PLAYERS TO WATCH  

Steaua Bucuresti: Sorin Ghoinea  

Ghoinea and Dorin Goian form a centre back partnership that is widely regarded as one of the best in East Europe.  How Ghoinea and Goian will fare against Bayern strikers Luca Toni and Miroslav Klose will be of extreme importance to the outcome of the match.  Serving as deputy captain, all eyes will be on Ghoinea to rally his team to put their best foot forward and take points at home.      

Bayern Munich: Philipp Lahm  

The German international left back recently made his 50th appearance for Die Mannschaft, and has been in superb form since the European Championship.  Lahm has been an extremely important factor on both ends of the field.  Bayern will need his offensive creativity and defensive mastery if they are to take 3 points tomorrow.  

PREDICTION  

It’s hard to predict a result from this match because there are so many conflicting variables.  On paper, Bayern clearly have the better squad.  However, Bayern often performed poorly in European play last year, nearly being knocked out by several clubs against which, on paper, they should have had less difficulty. 

However, their new coach, Jürgen Klinsmann, has made several changes to his team’s tactics following Ottmar Hitzfeld’s departure.  In fact, Bayern are in great form following 4-1 and 3-0 wins in their last two league matches. 

Steaua have an international pedigree and, being the home team; will be very hard to beat.  The 1986 Champions League winners reached the UEFA Cup semifinals as recently as 2006.  I’m going to call this one in favor of Bayern only because of Klinsmann’s tactical approach, which should be versatile enough for Bayern to adapt to whatever situation they face on the pitch.  

Steaua 1-2 Bayern

Clark Whitney

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