By Jules Marshall in Eindhoven
After defeat in London by Arsenal FC a fortnight ago, PSV Eindhoven are aiming to kick-start their UEFA Champions League campaign when early Group E leaders Panathinaikos FC visit the Philips stadium.
Other than the 1-0 loss at Arsenal, PSV have been riding high this season, dropping just one point from their opening six Eredivisie games; scoring seven goals and conceding none in the two games since Matchday 1.
On that night the Greek champions overcame Rosenborg BK 2-1, but PSV coach Guus Hiddink is not looking back. "After the disappointment of Highbury two weeks ago, when we had hoped for a point, played well in the second half and kept things under control until the very end, we must win if we are to finish second in our group," he said.
However, Hiddink is aware that Panathinaikos present a formidable challenge. "They have Germans, Czechs, Argentinians," he said. "They are technically good and tactically disciplined, and we have seen what those qualities can produce in the [UEFA] European Championship this summer."
This is PSV's ninth Champions League campaign - a record only surpassed by FC Porto and Manchester United FC - but unlike those former winners the Dutch side have never progressed beyong the group stage, despite going close last season. "We played some good games and took ten points, but still failed to progress," Hiddink said.
The coach added, though, that he is delighted with the improvement in the squad since 2003. "
Several of our players have progressed since last year, both for PSV and with the Dutch side," Hiddink said. "[Johann] Vogel, [John] de Jong and [Wilfred] Bouma for example."
Hiddink added that the return of the experienced Phillip Cocu to PSV from FC Barcelona this season has brought a new level of calm to the team, while Mark van Bommel remains a vital cog in the side. He also has the luxury of a goalkeeping choice, with Edwin Zoetebier fit again. Heurelho Gomes has impressed in his absence, however.
Awaiting late fitness tests are Brazilian defender Alex and attacking summer signing Gerald Sibon, who both picked up painful knocks at the weekend but are hopeful of playing. Dutch international defender André Ooijer is definitely out with a pulled hamstring.
Defender Nasief Morris is Panathinaikos's only doubt with an arm injury but coach Itzhak Shum may opt for a five-man midfield, with striker Michalis Konstantinou making way to leave Dimitrios Papadopoulos as a lone forward. Since beating Rosenborg, Panathinaikos have gone on to win both their opening Alpha Ethniki matches, but Shum is aware that PSV are their toughest test this season.
Shum said: "One or three points will be a big step forward. We are playing a team that are top of their league with more than 20 goals, and you do not do that without good players.
If we do not play well but still get a draw, I would be happy."
The Israeli coach added that Greece's triumph at UEFA EURO 2004™ had increased the pressure on Panathinaikos and their domestic rivals, even though none of their league's three representatives came close to progressing past the group stage last season. "Everyone expects us to do well, but it will not be easy," Stum said. "We are not the best sides in Europe. But we have seen that if you believe, anything can happen in football. That is why people come to watch."
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