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FOOTBALL: KID GLOVES CAN CATCH OUT GERS; Wessels proved he was no weak link in Glasgow.

STEFAN WESSELS has grown up very quickly as a footballer.

When Bayern Munich suffered an injury crisis amongst their goalkeepers prior to the Champions League clash with Rangers last month, the Ibrox side must have believed debut boy Wessels would be a weak link.

With their top three goalies, Oliver Kahn, Bernd Dreher and Sven Scheuer unfit, Bayern coach Ottmar Hitzfeld had to pitch the 21- year-old in for a baptism of fire.

Wessles though, came through his Glasgow experience - and has never looked back.

Indeed, so impressed were some of the Ibrox regulars with the youngster, that they put pen to paper to congratulate him, even though he'd helped his side take a valuable point back to Germany.

Now, with Kahn still to prove his health ahead of this week's Rangers game in the Olympiastadion, Wessels could again be Hitzfeld's first choice.

And Stefan, who warmed up with a cleansheet during Bayern's 5-0 weekend win over Wolfsburg, is untroubled by that prospect.

"I am more confident now as a goalkeeper than I was when I first played against Rangers," admitted Wessels, who has played at every level from under-16 to under-21 for his country.

"In Glasgow, I didn't know if I could play at that high level or not. Now I have played twice in the Champions League, against Rangers and PSV Eindhoven, and twice in the Bundesliga.

"Now I know what it is about, and I feel more confident."

Wessels revealed: "It was really great at Ibrox. There was a good atmosphere in Glasgow, and although the people were for Rangers, they were fair to us.

"I even got some letters from Glasgow, from Rangers fans, not Celtic, congratulating me for the match, which was nice."

Wessels is still somewhat shocked at his rapid rise through the ranks. "I can hardly believe the way my career is working out, because last season I wasn't even training with the squad, and now I am in the Champions League."

This time around, his involvement will depend on whether 30-year-old Kahn recovers from a persistent neck injury which has dogged him since he collided with defender Sammy Kuffour during the match with Eintracht Frankfurt last month.

"Whether I play or not will depend on how Oliver feels," confirmed Wessels.

"He practiced on Sunday, and then we will see how he is. But he missed Saturday's game because he was still having problems with his neck, and having headaches."

Bayern have to win this match if they want to reach the next stage. Wessels is, like the rest of his team- mates, in a positive frame of mind.

He does however, know of the quality Rangers have, and the fact that this time around, they might not carry the good fortune they did in Scotland.

"We are confident because of the way we are playing. But Rangers are a good side, and I think Michael Mols remains the danger man.

"It will not be easy for us, and we must do it ourselves this time. We have already enjoyed a little piece of luck in Glasgow," said Wessels, referring to Michael Tarnat's last-minute deflected equaliser.

Bayern were impressive in catapulting themselves to the head of the Bundesliga on Saturday due to their Giovane Elber- inspired 5-0 rout of Wolfsburg.

Wessels though, did have moments of his own, namely two class stops from striker Andrzej Juskowiak.

"The Wolfsburg game was easy for us, although difficult sometimes for me," said Stefan. "Because we were attacking and scoring goals, I did not have a lot to do.

"I was a bit cold because when your team plays that well, you are not in the game. But Wolfsburg didn't score, so I did my job."

Which is more than poor Brian O'Neil did.

The German-based Scot, formerly of Celtic and Aberdeen, had been praised by none other than international team manager Craig Brown for his consistancy amongst some of Europe's finest.

Unfortunately, O'Neil chose to have his poorest showing of the season in front of a sizeable contingent of the Scottish press.

For against Brazilian marksman Giovane Elber, O'Neil was a distant second.

Wolfsburg, coached by who else but Wolfgang Wolf, were under the cosh.

After 11 minutes, Bayern were ahead. Mehmet Scholl sent the ageless Lothar Matthaus down the right, his cross aimed to the back post where O'Neil left Elber unattended, and his volley beat Claus Reitmaier low down.

Matthaus' quick free kick to Stefan Effenberg led to goal No.2 four minutes later, the Bayern skipper launching a 40 yard pass to Roque Santa Cruz, and the Paraguayan tucked away his angled shot.

And by 26 minutes, the game was finished as a contest. Tarnat cut the ball back from the bye-line, and while O'Neil appealed that the ball had been out of play, Elber stabbed home his second.

Bayern seemed to ease up, maybe saving themselves for Wednesday.

But 12 minutes from time, Elber concluded his treble. Santa Cruz flicked on Thomas Strunz's massive throw in, O'Neil leaving Elber unmarked to head home.

It's an indication of just how much Bayern think of Elber that this week he completed negotiations to stay on at the club until 2003.

Elber confirmed: "I had considered moving to Spain but having talked with my wife, she asked why we should go there when we are happy living in Germany. I am happy to finish my European career here. By then I'll be 30, and will go back to Brazil and play there for a few years."

A contented man. And who wouldn't be, earning a guaranteed pounds 1.5million a year!

In the last minute, again from a Strunz shy, Michael Wiesinger completed the goal feast.

Bayern had been clinical in their finishing, positive in their approach. But in terms of a spectacle, this match was largely a bore.

Wednesday, as Hitzfeld and Matthaus announced, won't be the same.

"Rangers will be a completely different thing," said 38-year-old Matthaus, able now to talk of the Champions League clash, something Hitzfeld had banned following the loss in Eindhoven last week.

Impressed

Matthaus, the centre of some conjecture after doubt was cast on whether he would move the the New York Metro Stars in December, added: "At Champions League level, teams play another way.

"You cannot compare Wolfsburg to how it will be against Rangers."

Hitzfeld agreed with the world record breaking sweeper.

"I am impressed by Rangers because they don't play like a normal Scottish team, with a Scottish style. Rangers play with a lot of potential and ability. I am impressed with that," said Hitzfeld, who gave one example of the quality contained within the Gers side.

"It's an indication of how good Rangers are that a player as good as Jorg Albertz cannot get a regular place in the side.

"They are very much a team with a European style now, because they have a foreign coach in Dick Advocaat and you can see that in the way they play their football."

Advocaat incidentally, featured in Bayern's match-day programme. Nothing however, to do with his coaching skills.

Instead, the Dutchman was appearing in an advert for a baldness cure!
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Sport
Author:WEIR, Stewart
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Nov 1, 1999
Words:1195
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