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August 9, 2009

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Wolfsburg kicks off German title defense with stylish win

CHAMPION VfL Wolfsburg enjoyed a perfect start to its German Bundesliga season when second-half goals by midfielder Zvjezdan Misimovic and striker Grafite gave it a 2-0 victory against VfB Stuttgart on Friday.

It was also a nice debut for Wolfsburg coach Armin Veh, who was sacked by Stuttgart halfway through last season after guiding the team to the Bundesliga title in 2007.

Veh replaced Felix Magath. Magath left Wolfsburg for Schalke after leading the club to its first championship.

Wolfsburg is now unbeaten at home since the 2007/8 season.

"In the first half it was a balanced match with both teams playing at a high pace," said Veh, standing next to Stuttgart coach Markus Babbel who used to be his assistant. "But we dominated in the second half and deserved the win. Of course, it was easier to counter attack after the first goal," Veh told Sky Television.

Stuttgart, with its newest signings -- Russia striker Pavel Pogrebnyak and Belarus midfielder Aleksandr Hleb -- in the lineup, had the first chance through Sami Khedira.

The Germany midfielder thought he had scored but his header from Pogrebnyak's cross after 17 minutes bounced off the post into the hands of home keeper Diego Benaglio.

Three minutes later it was Wolfsburg's turn to go close when Bosnia striker Edin Dzeko shook off three defenders and fired at Jens Lehmann who palmed the ball over the bar. The 39-year-old former Germany keeper was again at hand in the 34th minute when he saved a point-blank effort from Grafite.

Wolfsburg gradually increased the pressure, with Marcel Schaefer sending a 20-meter strike just wide on the hour. Its efforts paid off 11 minutes later when Misimovic got the ball at the edge of the box, looked up, turned and curled his shot beyond Lehmann's reach.

Last season's Bundesliga top scorer, Grafite, put the game beyond Stuttgart by shrugging off a defender and slotting the ball home eight minutes from time.

By that time, Stuttgart had been reduced by 10 men after defender Christian Traesch was forced to leave the game with a broken left hand in the 78th. Traesch was injured as he tried to block a cross, falling awkwardly on his hand.

Stuttgart coach Babbel had already made three substitutions and could not bring on another player.

"The injury to Traesch cost us a lot," Babbel said. "I brought in some offensive players because we needed to attack more."


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