BERLIN - German champions Borussia Dortmund will remain a force to be reckoned with in 2013 despite trailing in the Bundesliga title race, Bayern Munich star Bastian Schweinsteiger has insisted.
Bayern finished the first half of the season with a nine-point lead at the top of the Bundesliga table, with Dortmund lagging 12 points behind in third place, going into the four-week long winter break.
German Cup holders Dortmund travel to Munich's Allianz Arena in next February's quarter-finals and with both teams through to the knock-out phase of the Champions League, Schweinsteiger insists Dortmund are Germany's team to beat.
"The answer is 'no'," Schweinsteiger told German daily Bild when asked whether Dortmund's two-year long stranglehold on the league title has come to an end.
"Dortmund is a really good team, who have now established themselves in Europe.
"Even the top teams in the Champions League have had problems with their pressing style of football. And that is good for football in Germany in general."
Dortmund have not lost to Bayern in the Bundesliga since February 2010 and Borussia hammered their Bavarian rivals 5-2 in the German Cup final last May, but Schweinsteiger says the competition between the two clubs is healthy.
"The rivalry between Dortmund and Bayern raises the quality of both teams and of the national team," said Schweinsteiger with Bayern having drawn Arsenal in the Champions League last 16, while Dortmund face Ukraine's Shakhtar Donetsk.
"Perhaps even for teams like Schalke 04 who are also competing at the top.
"It is great that seven German teams have qualified for either the knock-out stages of the Champions League or Europa League.
"But we shouldn't just be happy with that.
"We have to take the next step of winning an international title and I want to be a part of that."
Bayern suffered heartbreak in May's Champions League final when they lost to Chelsea and it was Schweinsteiger's missed penalty in the decisive shoot-out at Munich's Allianz Arena which helped send the title to Stamford Bridge.
"Us losing the Champions League final still hurts," admitted Schweinsteiger.
"Nevertheless, I must say that there are worse things that happen in other people's lives.
"As a sportsman you learn to get up when you're lying on the ground.
"And we showed that reaction when we started this season, now we must complete the job - and get a title.
"Last season we have made mistakes in crucial situations. So I can say today: Chelsea were the deserved winners in the Champions League final."
Having spent the last 10 years in the Bundesliga, Schweinsteiger replied "you should never say never" when asked whether he wanted to play abroad with his Bayern contract due to expire in 2016.
The 28-year-old said Bayern are getting closed to playing 'perfect' football, like Spanish giants Barcelona, which has been helped by the influence of Munich coach Jupp Heynckes.
"We have gotten close to the perfect football which only Barcelona had played," he said.
"They are the only team who are head and shoulders above us. You can only say you are a true champion when you have beaten Barcelona. That is what we are striving for."
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