Hamburg success rests on Bremen battles

BERLIN - Hamburg SV could end up with three trophies this season but the level of of their success depends on the outcome of four matches against bitter rivals Werder Bremen in the coming 19 days. Hamburg, three points off the Bundesliga pace in third spot with six matches left, have also reached the UEFA Cup and German Cup semi-finals. The northern rivals meet in the domestic cup on Wednesday before their all-German UEFA Cup tie over two legs followed by a league match days later. "These will be festive days for the cities," Werder Bremen director Willi Lemke told reporters ahead of the first clash. "These matches will make the heart of every football fan race faster." Both northern cities, only an hour's drive apart, boast a rich domestic and international football pedigree and some of the country's most loyal fans. Hamburg have enjoyed a spectacular season under former Tottenham Hotspur coach Martin Jol, staying in the title hunt despite a more gruelling match schedule than other contenders who have faded away. Even the departure of key midfielder Nigel de Jong to Manchester City during the winter break failed to affect their performances. DETERMINED HAMBURG With a formidable strike force comprising Paolo Guerrero, Ivica Olic and Mladen Petric, Hamburg have shown commendable determination on numerous occasions. One highlight was their recovery against Galatasaray in Istanbul when they came back from 2-0 down to win 3-2 and clinch a UEFA Cup quarter-final spot. "The players are ready for these matches," Dutchman Jol said. "Maybe even for the first time in weeks." Werder Bremen, on the other hand, have had a rollercoaster season -- much of it downhill. The pre-season title favourites dropped out of contention in the Bundesliga early on with some erratic displays while their Champions League run ended in disappointment at the group stage. But their quality, especially with Brazilian Diego in midfield and Peru's Claudio Pizarro up front, is beyond doubt. The pair have scored 26 league goals this term and shown Werder can play exciting football, just like they did over two legs to oust AC Milan in the UEFA Cup round of 32 and to beat league leaders Wolfsburg 5-2 in the German Cup quarter-finals. "We want to have fun in these games (against Hamburg)," Werder coach Thomas Schaaf said. "We want to see two great teams play great football."