Bundes Liga |
Jittery Schalke on the brink
Schalke 04 stand on the brink of being crowned German champions for the first time in 49 years this weekend, but midfielder Hamit Altintop warned they must focus on clearing the final hurdles.
With just two games left, Schalke will be crowned champions if they win at Borussia Dortmund on Saturday and both rivals VfB Stuttgart and Werder Bremen lose to VfL Bochum and Eintracht Frankfurt respectively.
There is no room for error at the top of the Bundesliga with Schalke topping the table by a point from Stuttgart with Bremen just a point behind them in third.
Some 42,000 tickets have already been sold at Schalke's stadium even though their game is in Dortmund and will be shown on TV screens as the Gelsenkirchen locals wait in expectation of their first title since 1958.
But the climax is likely to go down to the wire and Schalke's final game at home to Arminia Bielefeld on May 19 could well be the decider.
Gelsenkirchen-born Altintop has played in Schalke's last three wins at Dortmund and is ready for another tough game at Borussia's 81,000-seater Westfalenstadion - which is an expected sell-out.
"As a player you sense the euphoria that is surrounding the club. I've heard our ground will be packed to the rafters as well. Hopefully we'll be able to give them a massive present," he said.
"Winning there is a very special experience indeed. A derby victory means a lot to the fans and as a player you feel it.
"Our ultimate goal this year is to win the league and we are two wins away from doing just that. That's what the players are focusing on", explained Altintop.
"Whether we clinch the title in Dortmund or at home against Bielefeld is not so important as long as we win it."
If Schalke win the party will run into next week, but Altintop insists his side are only concerned with picking up six points from their remaining two games and ignoring what happens to Stuttgart or Bremen.
"We're concentrating on ourselves. We have to put our foot down. If we do the rest will sort itself out," he said.
Schalke have stumbled in recent weeks and if they slip again Stuttgart are waiting, but they have a tough game at Bochum, who have the Bundesliga's top-scorer Theofanis Gekas, who has so far notched up 20 goals this season.
But Stuttgart coach Armin Veh came out fighting on Thursday after German Football Federation (DFB) president Theo Zwanziger was reported to have said Schalke deserved to be champions.
"It really irritated me when I read Zwanziger's comments," he said.
"Those comments are totally inappropriate, I had a high opinion of the DFB president, but that has changed now."
Of the top three clubs, Bremen have the easiest game on paper when they host Eintracht Frankfurt.
Bremen's star players Torsten Frings and Miroslav Klose have both pledged their future to the club, but coach Thomas Schaaf is still without injured German internationals midfielder Tim Borowski and defender Per Mertesacker.
But Schaaf welcomes back midfielders Diego and Frank Baumann who have shaken off slight knocks.
With no chance of a top three finish, fourth-placed Bayern Munich are relegated to the UEFA Cup next season and they are only playing for pride at Energie Cottbus, with a summer shake-up expected at the German giants.
Alemania Aachen v VfL Wolfsburg, Arminia Bielefeld v Hanover, Borussia Dortmund v Schalke 04, Energie Cottbus v Bayern Munich, Hertha Berlin v Bayer Leverkusen, Mainz 05 v Borussia M'gladbach, Nuremberg v Hamburg VFL Bochum v VfB Stuttgart, Werder Bremen v Eintracht Frankfurt