If any team can be confident about a UEFA Champions League quarter-final with Manchester United FC then it is RC Deportivo La Coruña. The Galician outfit appear to have cornered the English market, having beaten United and Arsenal FC home and away this season. Now, they must succeed where they failed at this stage last term against another FA Premiership side, Leeds United AFC.
Ever present in Europe's premier club competition for the last two seasons, Javier Irureta's side have been one of the most impressive sides in the tournament in 2001/02. Midfield player Juan Valerón and striker Diego Tristán are in the kind of form that puts the super into 'Super Depor', while Djalminha and Roy Makaay can be more than adequate replacements. Goalkeeper José Molina is possibly the best in Spain, and in front of him the experienced Nourredine Naybet and Mauro Silva make up a formidable spine. As well as quality they have confidence in spades after their victory over Real Madrid CF in the Spanish Cup final at the Santiago Bernabéu. However, the Copa del Rey is not enough; they won the league for the first time two years ago and want only the big prizes.
Tristán needs Valerón to be on song and both are players who depend on inspiration, which can work against them. If Valerón has an off-day he contributes little; this may happen just once in ten games but if it happens in the knockout stage it could be fatal. Valerón was nullified by Philip Cocu's man-marking in Spain's friendly last week against the Netherlands and Tristán suffered.
First group stage:
Statistically, Deportivo beat Manchester United to top spot in Group G by having the better of their head-to-head record with the Old Trafford side. Effectively, they owed their progress to the late goals that saved them from defeat against Olympiakos Piraeus FC home and away. Given that the Galicians also drew twice with Lille OSC, it was a good thing they achieved that remarkable double over Sir Alex Ferguson's men, with whom they finished level on ten points. But by now Depor are well used to pipping United.
Second group stage:
It was tight at the top in Group D too. So having been second best to Bayer 04 Leverkusen in their two meetings - 3-0 and 3-1 - Deportivo had to be content with runners-up spot in the section. Again, Irureta's team could be accused of having kept their best for the big boys. And that they reached the last eight was down to successes against Arsenal FC at the Municipal de Riazor and at Highbury. In both games, Deportivo showed their mastery of the defensive as well as the attacking arts. The other ingredient, of course, was luck, and this was evident as Juventus FC missed a penalty in Deportivo's stalemate in Turin; a 2-0 triumph in the return put them in pole position to qualify.
UEFA Champions League statistics:
Played: 12 Won: 5 Drawn: 5 Lost: 2 Goals scored: 7 Goals Against: 14
Top goalscorer: Tristán (6)
Last five results:
30 March Primera División Real Sociedad (a) 1-1
24 March Primera División CD Tenerife (h) 3-1
20 March UEFA Champions League Bayer 04 Leverkusen (h) 1-3
16 March Primera División Club Atlético Osasuna (a) 3-1
12 March UEFA Champions League Arsenal FC (a) 2-0
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