By Berend Scholten & Christian Chatelet
PSV Eindhoven welcome AS Monaco FC with their previous meeting in the Netherlands still fresh in the memory.
On Matchday 1 last season, Monaco came away from Eindhoven with a 2-1 win. PSV, for the seventh UEFA Champions League campaign running, were on their way to elimination at the group stage. Since that day, attackers Arjen Robben, Mateja Kezman and Dennis Rommedahl have all left, but with the signings of Jefferson Farfán and DaMarcus Beasley, the growing prominence of Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink and the experience of Phillip Cocu, PSV finally broke their hoodoo this autumn to set up a rematch with Monaco in the first knockout round.
Cocu, back at PSV last season after nine years away, admitted that he and the other new arrivals had had the benefit of being free from those past disappointments. He said of the longer-serving players: "They were so busy talking about the second stage and what could go wrong. But I was not hindered by that burden from the past - I always had faith in us qualifying for the next stage."
Coach Guus Hiddink, for whom the loss to Monaco prefaced a second early exit from the tournament, said he was relishing the reunion: "For us the main goal is reaching the next stage, but of course, at the same time it is a good opportunity to take revenge on Monaco."
Hiddink added: "While we have changed a lot, they have too. The fact they left teams like Liverpool [FC] and [RC] Deportivo La Coruña behind them in the group, shows they have not really become weaker. And what many people forget, they were last season's finalists."
For Monaco, victory at PSV was a vital first step on the road to the final. Patrice Evra, who forms an impressive back four with Sébastien Squillaci, Julien Rodriguez and Gaël Givet, explained that the match where they became the first French team to win at PSV was "a key game".
I felt we could achieve great things after our first game," said Evra. "For me, it was the pivotal fixture, more than beating Real [Madrid CF] or Chelsea [FC], more than the 8-3 win against Deportivo, which was more spectacular for many people. But we achieved a breakthrough where no French team had won in the past. It was the kind of game where you can look at yourself in the mirror and say: 'good job!'"
It was a tough occasion nevertheless. Evra said: "Just talking about it gives me butterflies. They were all giants. It was a fight - we were just missing war paint on our faces - but we won, From that point on, I knew we were not out of place in the competition."
Evra was making his Champions League debut in Eindhoven, and the pressure was on. "Last year I had Robben or Rommedahl against me," he recalled. "They really made me improve. We felt the smallest mistake could lead to a goal, but it helped us realise what the Champions League is about."
A year on, Monaco have replaced last season's striking heroes, Fernando Morientes and Dado Pršo, with Mohamed Kallon and Ernesto Chevantón. And with Ludovic Giuly and Jérôme Rothen having also moved on, the style is slightly more direct. Evra knows a repeat success will be hard earned. "Wilfred Bouma in defence is very strong," he said, "the two Koreans, Young-Pyo Lee and Ji-Sung Park, too. Kezman has gone as well but they remain very consistent."
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