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 Monday, March 11, 2002 20:02 EST

Leverkusen has attack problems in must-win match


LEVERKUSEN, Germany -- Bayer Leverkusen coach Klaus Toppmoeller has a striker problem ahead of Tuesday's Champions League match against Juventus which his men have to win to keep alive their chances of reaching the quarterfinals.

German international Oliver Neuville is sidelined with a sore ankle and Ulf Kirsten, in poor form, could also be left out of the Group D game.

Toppmoeller was expected to bring in rising Bulgarian striker Dimitar Berbatov for Neuville with Thomas Brdaric the likely replacement if Kirsten does not start.

Germany midfielder Michael Ballack was another doubtful starter because of a cold and his place could be taken by Croatian Jurica Vranjes.

Leverkusen is at the bottom of Group D with four points from as many matches. Only a victory against Juventus in its penultimate fixture, would leave the German league leaders in contention for a spot in the knockout stage.

Juventus is one place above Leverkusen also with four points. Spanish club Deportivo Coruna leads the group with seven points.

Leverkusen's commercial manager Reiner Calmund tried to play down the occasion.

"We've reached the second phase and we've seen good matches," he said. "We can be satisfied with that."

But Toppmoeller, whose team beat Energie Cottbus 2-0 on Saturday to maintain its Bundesliga lead, was in a more defiant mood.

"We have to win this match," he said.

Aside from the Champions League, Leverkusen is well-placed to win the German title for the first time and also has the German Cup final against Schalke 04 in May to look forward to.

"I've never been so convinced that we will become German champions," Toppmoeller said after the victory over Cottbus.

Leverkusen, who has not won a single trophy since lifting the German Cup in 1993, is desperate to use the season's last stretch to get rid of its reputation as perpetual runners-up.

"That image will stick to us unless we win something," Toppmoeller said. "Playing attractive football won't help. What we need is a title."

A good result against Juventus on Tuesday would provide Leverkusen with a welcome morale boost for the battles to come and would also enable the club to restore some pride after its embarrassing 4-1 defeat to group leaders Arsenal late last month.

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