By Simon Hart
Newcastle United FC manager Sir Bobby Robson and his players can be forgiven a sense of déjà vu on Wednesday night. As at the end of the UEFA Champions League first group stage, they enter their final Group A match with their destiny not in their own hands.
A victory at home to the group winners, FC Barcelona, will not be enough if Internazionale FC win their concluding game at Bayer 04 Leverkusen after last week's 2-2 draw at Inter left Newcastle a point behind the Italians. Yet there is optimism at St James' Park that should Héctor Cúper's side slip up, they can take full advantage and seal a stirring revival after defeats in their first two matches.
Midfield player Kieron Dyer, who will return after missing the game in Milan, admitted to a "sneaky feeling" that Newcastle could repeat their win in Feyenoord on Matchday 6 which completed their first-phase recovery after three defeats.
"We are in a similar situation to when we went to Feyenoord knowing that if we won the game we could still have gone out. We approached it with a perfect attitude, won the game and the results went for us," he said. "That's exactly what we will do again.
I've got a feeling that Leverkusen might just be able to get the draw and then it is all up to us."
The reason for this confidence is Newcastle's excellent form both at home and in Europe. Third in the Premiership, they have won eight out of their last nine matches at home, and according to their manager "have learnt this season" as they have gone along in the Champions League.
Along with Dyer, Frenchman Laurent Robert is back after sitting out last Saturday's 2-0 win at Charlton Athletic FC, but Gary Speed misses out with a groin injury. Leading the line will be the in-form Craig Bellamy and Alan Shearer, both of whom were suspended for the 3-1 defeat in Camp Nou. Shearer has since scored five goals in his last two Champions League outings - small wonder then that Barça coach Radomir Antic identifies him as Newcastle's main threat.
Antic - who said it was "something very special" returning to England, where he played for Luton Town FC in the 1980s - is without long-term absentees Phillip Cocu and Luis Enrique as well as, in all likelihood, Carlos Puyol whose fractured cheekbone will probably prevent him from playing.
While Gerard López will play after two months out, it remains to be seen which other changes Antic will make to a side already assured of a quarter-final place. In goal, Víctor Valdés could make his first start since October and there may be a debut for the young striker Sergio García De La Fuente.
This fixture revives memories of a Faustino Asprilla hat-trick when Newcastle beat Barcelona 3-2 here in September 1997. That success did not save them from an eventual elimination then, and the same could apply this time round.
Sir Bobby, who coached Barcelona in season 1996/97, described Wednesday's encounter as "a massive game against arguably the biggest club in the world". He added: "Unfortunately it does not rely on this particular game - there is another situation in Germany. But we just have to be focused on ourselves." And hope lightning strikes twice.
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