Stuttgart and Schalke open Bundesliga amid Munich hype


Hamburg : Champions VfB Stuttgart meet runners-up Schalke 04 in the Bundesliga curtain raiser Friday night, but most attention is on star-studded Bayern Munich.

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The Bavarians have invested like never before after coming fourth last season, splashing out more than $96.5 million for the likes of France winger Franck Ribery, star strikers Luca Toni and Miroslav Klose, and Germany left back Marcell Jansen.

But money doesn’t guarantee success, which Munich painfully learnt Monday when they needed penalty shootout heroics from their 38-year-old captain Oliver Kahn to beat third division Burghausen in the German cup.

“Everyone could see that the title isn’t a foregone conclusion,” warned coach Ottmar Hitzfeld.

Munich will need to show improvement in their opener Saturday against promoted Hansa Rostock and the following 33 games, but are the overwhelming favourites, with 11 of the 18 Bundesliga coaches rating them the top pick.

Toni is unlikely to play against Rostock because of a knee injury.

Rostock has nothing to lose in their return to the top flight after two years in the second division.

“We are not going to Munich to take pictures of their stadium and to say hello to the fans. We will play with two forwards,” said coach Frank Pagelsdorf.

Stuttgart, meanwhile, stole the title from Schalke in the final two rounds of play last season, and both teams – along with Werder Bremen, are tipped to be Munich’s main rivals again.

Schalke – who make another attempt to finally win the trophy 50 years after their last German title in 1958 – say they are not bothered by the fact that the trophy is displayed ahead of the match.

“I don’t care that the trophy is presented. From now on the title race is open again,” said key defender Marcelo Bordon.

Stuttgart has plenty of woes, with freshly crowned German Footballer of the Year Mario Gomez doubtful, newly signed Turkey playmaker Yildiray Basturk out injured and defender Gledson suspended.

“The situation is complicated. But we are still capable of winning matches, against Schalke as well,” insisted coach Armin Veh.

Fan interest is huge, with Borussia Dortmund topping record season ticket sales with more than 50,000 for their home games. Led by Munich, the clubs have invested $190 million in new players, also a Bundesliga record.

Hertha Berlin and VfL Wolfsburg have made major overhauls, which undergo a first test Saturday at Eintracht Frankfurt and against Arminia Bielefeld, respectively.

The other games are Bayer Leverkusen vs. Energie Cottbus, Vfl Bochum vs. Bremen, Hanover 96 vs. SV Hamburg (Saturday), Nuremberg vs. promoted SC Karlsruhe and Borussia Dortmund vs. promoted MSV Duisburg (Sunday).