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Almost impossible for Bayern to blow it

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It was just over seven weeks ago that Bayern Munich was declared Herbstmeisterschaft -- the Bundesliga's winter champions. The feat was accomplished in record time, with three matches to spare, and left the Bavarian giants perched comfortably atop the table at the mid-season break.

Thirty-two of the previous 49 winter champions have gone on to win the title, and with Bayern nine points clear of second-place Bayer Leverkusen and 12 points up on defending champions Borussia Dortmund they have every reason to anticipate a 22nd title as the schedule gets back underway this weekend.

Not that they can take their position, however advantageous, for granted. In 2008 TSG Hoffenheim won the Herbstmeister with 35 points from 17 matches -- a total that would also have seen them to the designation this season. But after the restart they dropped like a rock, eventually landing in seventh place and 14 points adrift of the league leaders by the end of the campaign.

It's for this reason that the Bundesliga is typically one of the more exciting European leagues to follow right down to the wire. History has taught that no lead is safe, the slightest dip in form can be, and often is, punished by a rival who picks up a head of steam when it matters most.

For example, Dortmund manager Jurgen Klopp would be foolish to throw in the towel, despite the gap between his side and Bayern.

"The league in itself is so exciting because it is so even," he told German outlet Die Welt earlier in the week. "The battle for places in Europe is particularly tight. Right down to ninth, everybody still has it all to play for and that makes it very exciting."

That said, Bayern will take some beating. The next few months represent manager Jupp Heynckes' final spell at a club with which he has spent parts of seven seasons in three stints going back to 1987.

There is certainly a "Win it for Jupp!" mentality among the squad and staff, and on Wednesday the club's chief executive, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, told reporters he considered it a "big obligation" to usher out the old era with a Bundesliga title.

The new era, which will begin on July 1, coincides with Pep Guardiola succeeding Heynckes as Bayern manager. And as the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United were also thought to have been interested in hiring the former Barcelona boss, his decision to join Bayern was seen as something as a coup.

"My successor is a smart man," stated Heynckes at his Friday press conference. "He analyzed the top European teams and recognized that Bayern will be the team with which he can have the most success."

And he may end up taking over a champion.

With the exception of defender Holger Badstuber, who is injured and out for the rest of the season, Heynckes will have a fully-fit squad available to him when Bayern begin the second portion of their schedule today against Greuther Furth.

Only a meltdown of monumental proportions will deny Bayern the title at this point. But they can't rest on their laurels. Nothing's been won just yet.

jerradpeters@gmail.com Twitter @jerradpeters

Spot kicks

-- The 2013 Africa Cup of Nations begins today with two matches: South Africa vs. Cape Verde (10 a.m.) and Angola vs. Morocco (1 p.m.). The tournament is taking place in South Africa and the favourites include Ghana, Ivory Coast, Mali, Nigeria and Tunisia. Zambia are defending champions.

-- The Uruguayan Football Association has banned soccer under its auspices for 10 days following an incident between Montevideo archrivals Nacional and Penarol on Wednesday. During the Clasico Nacional goalkeeper Jorge Bava punched a policeman and was subsequently arrested. A pitched battle between sets of the clubs' supporters also resulted in one fan being taken to hospital and placed in intensive care after being shot.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 19, 2013 C6

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