Bundesliga wrap: Schalke move top

December 16, 2006

BERLIN, Dec 16 (Reuters) -Schalke 04 scored late to move to the top of the Bundesliga on Saturday with a 1-0 victory at Arminia Bielefeld but Werder Bremen could still reclaim first place on Sunday before the long winter break.

Zlatan Bajramovic scored the winner in the 82nd minute, just three minutes after the Bosnia midfielder had come on as a substitute, to put Schalke on 36 points from their 17 matches while Werder are second with 33 points from 16 matches.

Werder, with a superior goal difference, can claim the unofficial winter championship if they beat VfL Wolfsburg at home on Sunday.

Bayern Munich crushed Mainz 4-0 away with their strongest league performance of the season to move into third place ahead of VfB Stuttgart, which were held to a goalless draw at Energie Cottbus.

Hasan Salihamidzic, Roy Makaay, Claudio Pizarro and Bastian Schweinsteiger scored for Bayern, who finished the first half of the season on a high note with five league wins and a draw from their last six matches.

The champions had struggled earlier in the season, suffering three humiliating defeats to clubs in the relegation zone. They then beat Bayer Leverkusen, Stuttgart, Hamburg SV, Cottbus and Mainz while drawing against Borussia Moenchengladbach.

'We knew at the start of the season we'd have some problems because of so many new players and others fatigued after the World Cup,' Bayern director of football Uli Hoeness said.

'We said we wanted to stay close to the top. It was a difficult first half but I think we're ready to attack in the second half. It's going to be hard for Schalke and Bremen to stay in front of us.'

INSPIRED CHANGE

Schalke were in control for most of their match played in heavy rain. Halil Altintop just missed in the 12th minute and Christian Pander's free kick hit the crossbar in the 67th.

Schalke coach Mirko Slomka then made an inspired change when he brought on Bajramovic in the 79th minute. Three minutes later he outjumped his marker to head in a high cross from Hamit Altintop at the far post that beat keeper Mathias Hain.

Schalke have also finished the first half of the season strongly, winning six of their final eight games with two draws.

'It was a struggle to get good shots on goal -- it was a difficult pitch to play on,' said Slomka. 'It wasn't a pretty match to watch. But we don't care about that. We've got 36 points and first place right now.'

Bielefeld coach Thomas von Heesen said it was bitter to concede the late goal.

'Schalke looked pretty helpless at times,' he said.