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International Soccer
Relegation a real possibility for Werder Bremen

By Brian Westfall, Soccer Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Per Mertesacker pounded the grass with his hands, then his head sunk to the ground, painting a perfect picture of Werder Bremen's season with his reaction to his own goal against Bayern Munich on Saturday.

Mertesacker, who scored earlier in the half, turned the ball into his own net midway through the second half to provide the winning goal in a 3-1 defeat to Bayern that left the proud north German club again pondering relegation.

Just minutes earlier, the towering Mertesacker scored to give Bremen the lead and provide some hope this day would mark the turnaround in an otherwise very forgetful season.

But not even Germany's best central defender was immune to Bremen's woes this afternoon at Weserstadion, as the 6-foot-6 giant made an extremely rare error to give away the lead - and all hope against Bayern.

Bremen slipped to 15th in the Bundesliga table with the defeat, just one spot and a mere three points above the relegation zone - a spot no one would have dared predict Bremen be at this point in the season back in August.

But now, with just 14 matches remaining in the season, and Bremen starting one of its toughest stretches with a loss, it's not far-fetched to believe a club that has spent only one season outside the Bundesliga could be relegated.

Even Arjen Robben, who scored Bayern's first goal to even the game, commented afterward that, "for the sake of their fans, I hope Bremen pick up soon."

It's odd somebody from another club, especially a player in his second season in the Bundesliga, would make such a remark. Bremen has been one of Germany's top clubs, with six top-three finishes in the last seven years, though.

Per Mertesacker made an extremely rare error to give away the lead.
Bremen's only season outside of the Bundesliga was in 1980-81, and it claimed the league championship as recently as 2004. The thought of a squad featuring so much talent not surviving is almost unfathomable.

But Mertesacker and Bremen's other current German internationals, Marko Marin and Tim Wiese, and former German starter Torsten Frings - who played 79 times for his country - not to mention Tim Borowski and Clemens Fritz, who combined for 55 appearances, have to face reality.

"We're making unbelievable errors in defense at the moment," Bremen captain Frings said, "and they're all ending in goals.

"Until we cut it out, we won't win."

Bremen certainly hasn't won much this season. In fact, it's struggled just to compete. Eight of its 10 losses this season are by at least two goals, and it has been outscored 28-3 in those defeats.

Outside of a brief undefeated streak from late September to mid-October, when Bremen won three and tied one during a four-game stretch, the club has proven it's not up to par this season.

Bremen was unlucky against Bayern, as prior to Mertesacker's own goal, a hand ball on Bayern's Luiz Gustavo was missed in the area. Bremen could have taken a 2-1 lead if it converted from the spot. The way things have gone, that was no sure thing either.

After Mertesacker's mistake, Bremen collapsed. Miroslav Klose followed with a breakaway goal for Bayern, then goalie Wiese was sent off for a foolish foul.

Bremen may have played well for a portion of the match, as boss Thomas Schaaf acknowledged, but that usually doesn't get the job done.

"You could see my players were determined to turn things around, but it's not the result we wanted," Schaaf said.

Now, a team that has posted half its wins against clubs in the bottom five of the standings must get the results it wants - needs - and the schedule is not kind.

Werder's next five matches are all against teams currently in the top half of the standings, starting with a visit to fourth-place Mainz next weekend. With a few more losses, Bremen could be deep in the drop zone by March.

Schaaf said before the Bayern match "our short-term target is to win, win and win again. All our remaining games are important."

They're even more important now. Regardless of the amount of talent Bremen is blessed with, there is no escape clause to prevent this usual Bundesliga giant from relegation. And at this point, there's no reason to think it's not a real possibility.

Comments? Criticism? Applause?
Contact Brian Westfall at bwestfall@sportsnetwork.com.

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