Not so long ago, a UEFA Champions League quarter-final between RC Deportivo La Coruña and Manchester United FC would have been billed as fanciful thinking in some quarters, David versus Goliath in others.
United, twice European champions, first in 1968 and then as recently as 1999, have played more Champions League matches than any other club; Deportivo, by contrast, did not make their debut in European competition until 1993/94 and their Champions League initiation came only last season.
But such has been the impact made by coach Javier Irureta and his team in the past 18 months that, when the sides meet for the third time this season tonight at the Municipal de Riazor stadium, it will be hard to say which team starts as underdog.
The Spanish side emerged triumphant from their two previous meetings in the first group stage, and that will give them a psychological boost. Furthermore, the way they have played since, particularly in a second group stage victory away at Arsenal FC and also in the Spanish Cup final against Real Madrid CF, has prompted some observers to name Deportivo as one of the favourites for the whole competition.
After the 2-0 win at Highbury, even United's experienced England international full-back Gary Neville was moved to declare that "at the moment, Deportivo are the best team in Europe", while Sir Alex Ferguson made no effort to hide his desire to avoid them in the quarter-final draw.
"We're not unaware of the difficult task of playing Deportivo," said the United coach, "but I'm sure they know they're in for a hard game also. I think the two games we played earlier this season were good games. In the first game Deportivo had a lot of possession, but once we scored I felt we should have won the match.
"Up until then they were the better side. In the second half we missed two or three chances to kill the game. But Deportivo score a lot of late goals, and they keep going, so you have to give them great credit for that. And the game at Old Trafford was just fantastic, end to end from both teams."
One man who played in both of those games was Juan Sebastián Veron, but an achilles injury means the Argentinian international definitely misses the first leg, and probably next week's second leg too.
For United it is a record sixth successive quarter-final appearance, while Deportivo also came this far last year before losing to another English club, Leeds United AFC. "They are the favourites to go through," insisted Irureta. "From midfield to attack they are very strong. They concede goals, but this is their way of playing. Sometimes they allow you to play.
"It's a very well balanced tie. We're not going to be easy for them, but they're not going to be easy for us either. Manchester United are a great team but I'm not afraid of them, I am just concerned. The first match is the most important. We need a good result here, and must try not to concede any goals. We have to try to win 1-0 or 2-0."
For his part, Sir Alex says: "When two good sides meet it can come down to many factors. One team can reach the heights on a particular night, or one individual could do it. Luck may come into it also. But by the end of the night, we hope we're in a strong position for the return leg at Old Trafford."
United have three players - Laurent Blanc, Roy Keane and Paul Scholes - one caution away from a suspension, while Deportivo have two in Joan Capdevila and Enrique Romero.
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