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Monday, December 17, 2007

THANKING THE LORD: Werder Bremen striker Ivan Klasnic is on his knees as he offers a prayer of thanks after scoring against Bayer Leverkusen in their Bundesliga match at the WeserStadion on Saturday.Photo: AFP
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Werder Bremen's Ivan Klasnic enjoyed a Christmas fairytale finish to the kidney transplant nightmare - which almost ended his career - with two goals in the 5-2 win over Bayer Leverkusen.

The 27-year-old striker, who played for Croatia in last year's World Cup, opened his side's scoring in just his third league game back after his kidney transplant as Bremen drew level with Bayern Munich at the top of the league on Saturday.

"I'm of course very happy," he said after netting twice to leave him with 44 goals in 138 Bundesliga matches.

"It was very emotional for me and it took me about five seconds to actually realise I had scored the first goal.

"I have forgotten the bad period which is behind me and I am just focusing on the future now."

And coach Thomas Schaaf was full of praise for the striker after watching him endure a difficult year in which his career hung in the balance for many months.

"He has dealt with a very difficult situation with great strength and courage, but he has still kept his qualities."

Ill health had forced Klasnic to have a first kidney operation at the start of the year, but his body rejected the organ donated by his mother. A second operation proved successful.

Now, the 27-year-old could be forgiven for treasuring both strikes against Bayer. But he only got through it with the support of family and friends.

"I could not have got through 2007 without the support of my family and teammates.

"The year has changed my approach to life, from now on I concentrate on my health and those important to me."

For Bremen teammate Clemens Fritz, who also scored against Bayer Leverkusen in the 5-2 rout, the goals were Klasnic's just desserts.

"Those two goals were a fitting reward for all the hard months of rehabilitation he has gone through," he said.

After the first kidney was rejected, Klasnic had a second operation in March with an organ donated by his father which was successful.

"Thank God, the transplant went very well," he said on his website at the time.

"My body has accepted my father's kidney and we're both doing well.

"The doctors already told me I would be able to continue playing football."

But it was a long road back and in August Werder Bremen's doctors banned him from training with the squad through fears his body would not cope with the heavy physical strain.

In September, the medics finally allowed him to train with the first-team squad and he made a few appearances for the second-team.

He started his first Bundesliga game since December 2006 three weeks ago in the 2-0 win at Energie Cottbus and has had to wait less than a month for his first goals.

With Croatia sealing their place at Euro 2008 with their 3-2 win at Wembley last month against England, next June's European Championships now beckon for Klasnic.

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