International Soccer
Schalke is Germany's only hope

By Brian Westfall, Soccer Editor

Stoppage Time Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Schalke has fallen out of the championship race in Germany's Bundesliga, but arguably remains the most important club to the country right now.

Schalke is the lone German team still in the Champions League - Bayern Munich, Bayer Leverkusen, Hamburg and Werder Bremen are in the UEFA Cup - and will try to become the league's first champion since 2001.

Although a six-year drought in Europe's top club tournament isn't horrible, it has left Germany in the dust of England, Italy and Spain.

In the last six tournaments, Italy (AC Milan twice) and Spain (Barcelona and Real Madrid) have crowned two champions and England (Liverpool) one.

The other champion was Portugal's FC Porto, which takes us back to Schalke. FC Porto won the Champions League final at Schalke's Stadium in Gelsenkirchen in 2004.

Mirko Slomka
Coach Mirko Slomka is hoping that his Schalke team gives him something to clap about.
A few weeks ago, Schalke took one of the biggest steps toward ending Germany's drought with a 1-0 home win over Porto in the first leg of their series in the round of 16.

"This win opens up a lot of possibilities for us, but the return leg will also be close," coach Mirko Slomka said on Schalke's website after the victory.

Schalke - which is in the knockout stage of the Champions League for the first time - will try to reach another milestone Wednesday when it visits Porto for the second leg.

"We have simply got to play intelligently in Porto," Schalke captain Marcelo Bordon told the club's website. "(We) have a huge chance of making it into the quarterfinals."

Schalke just needs to leave Dragao Stadium with a tie. Considering it has lost just one game on the road in the Champions League - at England's Chelsea - the task isn't that daunting, right?

Well, Porto is unbeaten at home in Portugal's La Liga, with 10 wins and a draw in 11 games. The Portuguese champions were also undefeated in the group stage at home, defeating Besiktas and Marseille and tying Liverpool.

"We will need to be at our very best," said Slomka, who has been under fire for the team's league woes after leading them to a second last year.

If Schalke does hold off Porto and advance Wednesday, obviously its road will not get easier.

But if the club can't shake off a three-game losing streak in the Bundesliga and keep Germany's hopes of winning the Champions League alive, the UEFA Cup - Europe's second-tier competition - will become even more important.

With the league's top four teams in the UEFA Cup, the Bundesliga needs to win that tournament.

Third-place Hamburg and fourth-place Bayer Leverkusen play each other, so that puts at least one club through to the quarterfinals. First-place Bayern Munich plays Belgium's Anderlecht and second-place Werder plays Scotland's Rangers.

All four clubs, with Bayern being the favorite, are capable of capturing the UEFA Cup. That would end another drought for Germany, dating back 10 years to Schalke's 1997 title.

Schalke, which was in Germany's second division less than 20 years ago, would prefer to take the attention off the German clubs in the UEFA Cup.

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