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Stuttgart relieved by Champions League success

By Brian Westfall, Soccer Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Stuttgart veteran Jens Lehmann jumped over an advertising board behind the goal, dropped to one knee and urinated during the middle of a must-win Champions League match against Unirea on Wednesday.

Lehmann admitted afterward he "was nervous as ever before," although the crowd of 40,000 at Mercedes-Benz Arena didn't seem to bother the 40-year-old former German international goalie.

Needless to say, Lehmann was relieved.

At the end of the match, so was Stuttgart.

Despite managing just two wins in Germany's Bundesliga, where the club sits in 16th after 15 matches, Stuttgart continued its strange season by defeating the Romanian club 3-1 to advance in the Champions League.

Stuttgart is winless in nine straight in German competitions, including a loss in the German Cup to Bundesliga 2 side SpVgg Greuther Furth.

Markus Babbel was fired after a 4-0 league defeat to Bayer Leverkusen.
But in the Champions League, Stuttgart is 2-1-2 since it last won a Bundesliga match in late September, and 3-1-4 overall in the event this season.

"We are not in a very easy situation at the moment and that made the win even more important for us," Stuttgart's Ciprian Marica said.

So although Stuttgart sits below Bochum, Freiburg and Koln in the Bundesliga, it sits alongside the likes of Barcelona, Chelsea, Manchester United and Real Madrid as one of the final 16 teams left in Europe's elite club tournament.

Even more impressive was the fact Stuttgart switched coaches just days before the crucial match. Markus Babbel was fired after a 4-0 league defeat to Bayer Leverkusen, and new coach Christian Gross made six changes in his debut.

Gross, who used to coach England's Tottenham and Switzerland's Basel, admitted he wouldn't put too much stock in just one match.

"It would be fatal," Gross said, "if we were to allow ourselves to get carried away by (Wednesday's) game."

Stuttgart showed its ability in the early stages against Unirea, scoring three goals in the opening 11 minutes to set a Champions League mark for the fastest three-goal lead.

Marica opened the scoring in the fifth, Christian Trasch scored in the eighth, and Pavel Pogrebnyak followed in the 11th.

"They started fantastically," Gross said, "but after that it wasn't so great."

After taking the 3-0 lead, Stuttgart showed indications of why it is sitting so low in the German league this season. And Gross knows the team has a lot of work left to do as he instills his style on the club.

Stuttgart - and certainly Lehmann - seemed very comfortable with the lead, and finished off the game with Unirea needing only a draw to advance and eliminate the German side.

It's likely Stuttgart, which won the Bundesliga in 2007, will start a slow and steady climb up the standings over the final few weeks before the winter break and through the second half.

Considering the club's league form, it's impressive they managed to escape the group stage, with a win that will likely turn its domestic season around.

"The win was massively important," Stuttgart's Matthieu Delpierre said, "but we have to go on and show what we are capable of in the Bundesliga now too."

Lehmann, who had to hurry back over the board and onto the field from his pit- stop when Unirea attacked, and avoided a yellow card because the referee didn't see him leave the pitch, needs to stay between the pipes for that to happen.

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

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