PREVIEW-Soccer-Bayern face do-or-die match at Stuttgart

BERLIN, April 19 (Reuters) - Bayern Munich can say ‘Auf Wiedersehen’ to the Bundesliga championship unless they can beat VfB Stuttgart on Saturday in a showdown for third place with just five weeks left in the season.

Bayern, champions for the past two seasons, are six points behind leaders Schalke 04, four behind Werder Bremen and two behind Stuttgart, who hold third position which carries a place in next season’s Champions League qualifiers.

“This match is a great chance for us to get into third place,” Bayern captain Oliver Kahn said on the club’s Web site.

“It’s the first of five finals for us. There is an awful lot at stake for us. We all know that it’s vital for Bayern to play in the Champions League next season. It’s going to be a heated contest in Stuttgart.”

Bayern have won the Bundesliga in six of the last eight seasons.

Despite a three-match league winning streak, they have stopped talking about retaining the championship and everyone from coach Ottmar Hitzfeld down says the modest goal is to finish no lower than third to secure a Champions League berth.


But few believe they have really given up on the championship, their only chance of silverware this season after being eliminated from the German Cup and Champions League.

Bayern have come from behind before in the final run-in, including a heart-stopping rally to overtake faltering Schalke in 2001 with an injury-time goal in their final match. Bayern also came from behind to pip Schalke late in the 2005 season.

A loss at Stuttgart would, however, leave Bayern with 53 points -- nine behind Schalke if the Gelsenkirchen side beat Energie Cottbus at home on Saturday. With only four matches left that would all but extinguish Bayern’s hopes of a 21st league title.

But victory in Stuttgart -- combined with Werder losing at home on Friday against Alemannia Aachen and Schalke also losing -- would put Bayern right back in the hunt, just three points behind Schalke.

Bayern have beaten Stuttgart in nine of their last 12 meetings. Bayern have lost four of six away matches in 2007.

Stuttgart are unbeaten in their last 12 home matches and are the league’s best team in 2007. With 27 goals, they lead the 2007 scoring table and have eight more than Bayern this year.