Defending champion Inter Milan and Werder Bremen enter their Group A clash in the Champions League on Wednesday with serious injury problems.
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Inter striker Diego Milito strained his thigh in a last-minute 1-0 loss to AS Roma at the weekend, while fellow forward Goran Pandev is also doubtful, along with defender Walter Samuel. Captain Javier Zanetti, Marco Materazzi and Thiago Motto are all unavailable.
Bremen will be without forward Claudio Pizarro, captain Torsten Frings and defender Clemens Fritz.
Both sides began the group stage with 2-2 draws. Inter was held at Dutch champion FC Twente and Bremen battled back from two goals down to rescue a point against Tottenham.
This is the third time the two clubs have met in the group stage, after 2004-05 and 2008-09, with one win each and two draws so far.
Inter conceded a 90th-minute strike from Mirko Vucinic in Saturday’s loss to Roma, which highlighted how thin a bench the European champion has. New coach Rafa Benitez has stuck with virtually the same four players in attack for Inter’s first eight matches in all competitions this season – Wesley Sneijder, Pandev, Samuel Eto’o and Milito.
Another forward, Mario Balotelli, left for Manchester City and the only significant signing Inter made during the offseason was bringing in 18-year-old Brazil midfielder Coutinho, who needs time to mature and grasp the European game.
"The good thing about football is that when a loss comes you get the chance to prove right away to yourselves, to the fans and the president that it was just a hiccup," said Inter goalkeeper Julio Cesar.
Inter has not lost two consecutive matches since Feb. 2006, when current Man City manager Roberto Mancini was in charge.
Benitez has had to face constant comparisons to Jose Mourinho, who guided Inter to an unprecedented treble last season with the Champions League, Serie A and Italian Cup titles.
Inter was criticized for playing for a draw at the end of the loss to Roma, after having wasted several scoring chances earlier on.
"The squad is still dangerous when it has the ball, when it attacks and on the counterattack, but we’ve got to work on being more compact and improving the defense," Benitez said.
With a match against Juventus looming on Sunday, Benitez doesn’t have much time to switch things around.
Bremen has already tasted success in Italy this season, having eliminated Sampdoria in the final qualifying round in August courtesy of an injury-time goal from Pizarro.
Thomas Schaaf’s side ended a two-game losing streak with a 3-2 derby win against northern German rivals Hamburg on Sunday, but Pizarro and Fritz both tore thigh muscles, while Frings bruised his hip.
"This is a harsh blow to us, a huge loss of quality ahead of a difficult trip," said Schaaf, whose team fought back from a two-goal deficit to draw 2-2 in its Group A opener at home against Tottenham Hotspur.
The injuries leave Schaaf without three top defenders, with Naldo yet to play this season due to a recurring knee issue and Sebastian Boenisch ruled out for up to six months with knee cartilage damage.
Bremen will have the services of Finnish international defender Petri Pasanen, who missed the Hamburg contest with a knee injury. Danish international Daniel Jensen will likely take over for Frings just in front of the defense. Brazilian all-arounder Wesley is set to play at right back, with Philipp Bargfrede replacing him in the midfield.
In attack, Schaaf has a couple of options to take the place of Pizarro, with either Sandro Wagner or Marko Arnautovic playing alongside Hugo Almeida.