Fred Rutten is urging PSV Eindhoven to "make the impossible possible" as they welcome SL Benfica needing to overturn a three-goal deficit to reach the UEFA Europa League semi-finals.
Rutten's side went down 4-1 in Lisbon last Thursday and, though they are unbeaten in 12 games in Eindhoven – winning nine since a 3-1 loss to Liverpool FC in the 2008/09 UEFA Champions League group stage – their coach knows a positive start will be crucial. "
We'll try and score an early goal, as that would give us a confidence boost against a very tough side," he said. "It's not easy to do that though so we must stay sharp and alert."
The PSV coach has several selection dilemmas, with Erik Pieters – an ever-present in the competition this season – and Orlando Engelaar both banned while Wilfred Bouma and Ola Toivonen have hamstring problems. "Bouma is not 100% fit and he'll have a late fitness test before a decision is made," Rutten said. "Toivonen is not playing. I've said we need a fully fit squad to get a good result, and in Lisbon we conceded two clumsy goals on the stroke of half-time and deep into added time."
PSV have won only one of their four home matches against Portuguese opposition but will be able to draw inspiration from the presence of several members of the team who beat Benfica on penalties in the 1988 European Champion Clubs' Cup final. "That'll be extra motivation because those players gave such a lot to the club and won that cup," Rutten said. "We have to be realistic with our injuries and suspensions, but sometimes players who have been used less have more motivation. We have to battle with Benfica, give our fans a good feeling and try to make what's almost impossible possible."
Benfica coach Jorge Jesus is missing only striker Nuno Gomes, who has a knee injury, yet despite a seven-match unbeaten away record in the competition he refuses to accept the tie is over. "I expect a different PSV from last week," he said. "They will play attacking football and will be hunting for goals, so we'll have to be careful in certain periods.
We'll defend the lead with great care; we'll play as we usually do, just in a slightly different fashion."
Should Benfica make it through they could face Portuguese rivals SC Braga in the last four, and Jesus believes the long-term planning of Liga clubs is paying off: "The trainers, business practice and worldwide scouting all contribute to the current quality of the teams." Furthermore, there is still the possibility of a final meeting with fierce rivals FC Porto, although the coach is concentrating on the matter in hand, adding: "I'm not thinking about that. Let's reach the semi-finals first, then we'll see."
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