RC Deportivo La Coruña's UEFA Champions League hopes will receive a double boost tonight with victory over FC Bayern München. That was the message from coach Javier Irureta ahead of the Group G showdown at the Riazor stadium.
It is not for nothing that Irureta has labelled the game "a final". Deportivo could book their place in the next round with a win, depending on the result between AC Milan and RC Lens, the team two points behind the Galicians. "It is a final, because it will be a major step forward for us if we can win," the 54-year-old told uefa.com. "Mathematically, we have to wait to see how Lens do against Milan. But we would have nine points, meaning Lens would have to win their last two games to qualify."
Bayern 'badly affected'
The one certainty, however, is that "Bayern would be out of the equation" should they lose or draw. The German side have failed to recover from Deportivo's 3-2 triumph in Munich on Matchday One - taking just one point since - and Irureta said: "I think that first result affected them badly. It's a surprise because they looked to have a really strong team with Zé Roberto and Michael Ballack. But we have to remember that they are still in with a chance."
Deportivo's false start
On paper, at least. While Bayern lead the 1. Bundesliga, Deportivo are sixth in Spain after three defeats in seven games. It has been the club's worst league start since Irureta took charge in 1998, but the former Athletic Club Bilbao player pleads mitigation. "I think the problems start at the back, with any team, and this season we have let in more goals than before. Yet there are reasons for this - the business with José Molina [Deportivo's first-choice goalkeeper who has testicular cancer], plus the injuries to Jorge Andrade and Juan Valerón."
The loss of playmaker Valerón with a broken leg has been especially felt. "He was in great form and suddenly that was taken away from the team. We miss his creativity and ability to control possession," Irureta said. Which might also explain Deportivo's inconsistent form in Group G, where wins against Bayern and Lens weigh against heavy defeats by the French team as well as leaders Milan.
Group of Death
"All good teams have a special player, like Rivaldo or Ballack, and in the Champions League we are playing very strong teams," continued the trainer. "We are in a tough group with the Italian and German league leaders, plus Lens who almost won the French title last year. It is the most difficult group in the competition."
The aim for Irureta is to emerge unscathed. And with ambitions intact: league champions in 2000, cup winners in 2002, Deportivo hope to complete the treble at Manchester United FC's Old Trafford stadium next May. "The league and the Champions League remain our objectives but it is not easy to combine the two," he warned. "Milan, Madrid and Arsenal are in the mix, but let's see which teams make it past the first round before naming any favourites." If Deportivo win tonight, they might well be among them.
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