Stuttgart ready for Odense date

The final group game is purely cosmetic to both sides since Odense

can no longer join the Swabians in the last 32 – even with a win at

the Mercedes-Benz Arena – but new Stuttgart coach Bruno Labbadia

insists that does not mean his side will be treating the match as a

training exercise. Labbadia took Hamburg to the semi-finals of the

competition last season while Thursday’s is his first game in

charge of Stuttgart since replacing Jens Keller on Monday. And he

is keen on getting off to a good start with his new club,

especially in view of Saturday’s final Bundesliga match of the

season against Bayern Munich. “I had the fortune last year of

standing with my team in the semi-finals and I hope that we can

experience that here,” he said. “When you look at the calibre of

the teams who are already out of the competition, like Juventus or

possibly Borussia Dortmund, then you see how much hard work has

been done to get this far. “It really is an attractive competition

and it means a lot to the team. “Tomorrow, we will be happy to

play. It is not an inconvenience or a strain, it is a highlight.

“Games are always special and it should be nice for all of us as we

can be quite relaxed about it, and there are not going to be many

occasions to be relaxed about games after this one.” Goalkeeper

Sven Ulreich echoed his coach’s words, saying that playing in the

Europa League is “a dream”. He said: “Especially for the young

players like myself, it is an honour to play in the Europa League.

“Apart from our last game, we had won every other one and we would

like to win this one as well. “It has always been a dream of mine

to play in this competition.” Nevertheless, the outcome of tomorrow

night’s game is only secondary as Labbadia takes the first look at

his team in view of the two games against Bayern – the first in the

Bundesliga on Sunday and the second in the DFB-Pokal next weekend.

“I cannot say whether the team I put out tomorrow will be the same

as on Saturday or next Wednesday, but I always aim to put out my

strongest team,” he said. “We are taking this game very seriously

and this allows me to take a look at a few things. “There is no

pressure on us for this game so we can try and build up our

self-confidence in view of Bayern.” Striker Martin Harnik will be

left out tomorrow night while Serdar Tasci will undergo a fitness

test. Odense arrive in Germany with pride their main concern. With

only four points from their first five group games, they need to

fare better than Getafe do against Young Boys to clinch third place

in the group. A 6-0 win over Aalborg in their final league match

before the winter break just over 10 days ago has at least secured

them second spot behind the runaway leaders FC Copenhagen in the

Danish league until the league recommences in March.