Weder Bremen's coach Thomas Schaaf has the look of someone who has just had something stolen from him. In this case, it was today's 1-1 draw against Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League. Schaaf will rue the chances his team squandered after seeing substitute Lionel Messi equalize in the 89th minute. This came after Puyol had given Bremen the lead in the 56th minute by diverted a shot into his own net. The Argentine international slotted the ball home after playing a spectacular give-and-go with Deco that left the Bremen defense stranded.
After losing both group games to the Spanish champions last season, the German side have only themselves to blame for not walking away with the three points.
Chelsea beat Sofia Levski 3-1 in the other Group A match today (see below). After two games, Chelsea leads the group with six points, two more than Barca. Bremen has one point and Levski none.
Schaaf gave new signing Per Mertesacker his debut. The Germany central defender underwent a heel operation after the World Cup and had not previously played for his new club. In another surprise, Schaaf sent in young striker Aaron Hunt to pair up with Miroslav Klose, and Hunt had the first shot at the goal, less than two minutes into the game. Hunt also created Bremen's second chance, providing the pass for Torsten Frings' volley that narrowly missed the target.
With Bremen dominating the early action, Barca's defense was lucky to concede only a corner after a deep ball by Diego. Goalkeeper Victor Valdes had to rush out of the penalty area to clear before the speedy Hunt made contact. Barca replied with a quick break by Ronaldinho but Bremen goalkeeper Tim Wiese foiled the Brazilian with a timely dive. Ronaldinho then set up Samuel Eto'o after Frings had lost the ball in midfield but Wiese again stopped the ball and later made another save on Eto'o. In the 34th minute, Ludovic Giuly was left unmarked but Wiese punched his shot away.
At the start of the second half, Giuly missed with a header from close range off a corner by Ronaldinho. On the other side, Klose rose to meet a corner from Diego but headed wide. Diego then tested Valdes with a low shot from the edge of the area, but the Barca goalkeeper smothered the ball.
Bremen kept putting on the pressure and Hunt sent in a swerving, dipping cross. Puyol tried to clear the ball before Tim Borowski but diverted it into his own net.
In the 64th minute, Eto'o was taken off on a stretcher with a right knee injury after apparently twisting it while kicking the ball. Barca coach Frank Rijkaard spoke at a news conference after the game, "Sadly enough it seems Eto'o has an injury to his knee and it could be a meniscus problem."
Before Rijkaard could make the substitution, Borowski collected a good pass from Diego but shot wide, barely missing the far post.
Rijkaard then made a double substitution, sending in Eidur Gudjohnsen and Lionel Messi for Giuly and Eto'o. Messi shook off four Bremen defenders in the 75th minute to get off a shot but Wiese made a good save. There was no stopping the Argentine with the game running out of regulation time. Messi played the ball to Deco on the edge of the penalty area, Deco played it back into the box and the 19 year-old drove the ball inside the left post.
Barca didn't play particularly well against Bremen after coming off a tough 1-1 draw against Valencia over the weekend. With the possibility of losing Eto'o for the foreseeable future, Rijkaard's team will have to close ranks and rally around players like Gudjohnsen, his likely replacement. Look for Javier Saviola to get some more minutes as well. Things don't get any easier for the European champions. Starting on October 15th, they will face Sevilla, Real Madrid, and Chelsea (twice) in a span of 17 days.
Bremen not only should have won today, they should have scored at least three or four goals tonight. The only consolation they can take from this is knowing that at home, they should be able to cause Chelsea problems. They play very similar to how Germany played during the World Cup, pressing in every area of the pitch and breaking with speed once they recover the ball. The Brazilian Diego was an excellent signing for them over the summer and gives them that bit of inventiveness that sometimes is lacking in German club sides.
One thing is for sure though. With two straight matches coming against Group A punching bag Levski, only six points will do for Bremen before Jose Mourhino's men come to visit on November 22nd.
Man of the Match: Tie, Lionel Messi and Torsten Frings
Match Stats [UEFA]