Midfielder Lars Bender staked his claim to start in Germany's friendly against France on Wednesday with two goals for Bayer Leverkusen as the Bundesliga club moved up to fifth with a 2-0 win at Cologne today.
With Bundesliga leaders Borussia Dortmund hosting Hannover, and third-placed Bayern Munich at home against Schalke on tomorrow, Bender scored a double as Leverkusen claimed bragging rights in the Rhine derby.
Having lost 4-1 at home to Cologne last September in the league, Bender said this was payback time for Leverkusen. "A derby win like that is always special. We needed to make amends after the home game," said Bender, whose team defeated Augsburg 4-1 last weekend. "We deserved the win at the end of the day. It was important to build on the Augsburg win."
The 22-year-old, whose twin brother, Sven, of Borussia Dortmund is also in the Germany squad to face the French in Bremen, netted either side of half-time as Leverkusen moved above Werder Bremen, who lost 1-0 to Nurnberg.
Bender's display was timely as Germany coach Joachim Loew is missing first-choice midfielders Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mario Goetze and Lukas Podolski for Wednesday's match. "We were looking to move the ball forward from the first minute and we had the game wonderfully under control," said Leverkusen coach Robin Dutt. "My only criticism would be that we didn't score more goals."
Bremen beat, Mainz climb
Bremen dropped to sixth in the table after their 1-0 defeat at home to Nurnberg, with midfielder Alexander Esswein scoring a 65th-minute winner to send the visitors up to tenth. There was a frantic finish to the match as Bremen's Claudio Pizarro had an effort cleared off the line in the final few minutes.
Mainz continued their impressive form to go 11th with a 4-0 defeat of Kaiserslautern, as Egypt star Mohamed Zidan scored for the fourth time in four games since his winter move from Dortmund. The 30-year-old has been in stellar form for his new club and needed just two minutes to put his side ahead.
Ex-Greece coach Otto Rehhagel, who took over last Sunday, got off to a losing start as Hertha Berlin were beaten 3-0 by fellow relegation candidates Augsburg. Two goals in two minutes from striker Torsten Oehrl put Augsburg ahead before Cameroon midfielder Marcel Ndjeng scored the third in the 92nd minute to condemn Berlin to a sixth straight defeat. The defeat sees Berlin drop into the relegation zone.
Stuttgart are up to eighth after their 4-1 win at home over bottom side Freiburg, with Japanese striker Shinji Okazaki scoring for the third time in three league matches.
On Friday night, Borussia Moenchengladbach missed out on joining Dortmund on 49 points at the top of the table after a 1-1 draw with improving Hamburg.
Mike Hanke gave Lucien Favre's hosts the lead with a header from a Juan Arango free-kick on the stroke of half-time, but Tolgay Arslan equalised 11 minutes after the restart. Hamburg, steadily improving under the tutelage of Thorsten Fink, climbed up to eighth place.