Inter and Bremen limp into San Siro clash

Defending champion Inter Milan and Werder Bremen enter their

Group A clash in the Champions League on Wednesday with serious

injury problems.

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. Captain Javier Zanetti, Walter Samuel,

Marco Materazzi and Thiago Motto are all unavailable.

Milito and Pandev were included in Inter’s squad announced

Tuesday, although coach Rafa Benitez said he wouldn’t decide on

their status until match day.

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. 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.