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History books beckon for Irureta

Published: Tuesday 4 May 2004, 5.12CET
Coach Javier Irureta is ready for the biggest night in RC Deportivo La Coruña's history.

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Published: Tuesday 4 May 2004, 5.12CET

History books beckon for Irureta

Coach Javier Irureta is ready for the biggest night in RC Deportivo La Coruña's history.
By Andy Hall

Fresh from a 2-0 win against Real Madrid CF at the weekend, RC Deportivo La Coruña coach Javier Irureta is prepared for what may be the biggest game of his coaching career - the second leg of their UEFA Champions League semi-final against FC Porto.

Historic night
With the scores level after a goalless draw in Portugal, Deportivo - in their fourth consecutive Champions League campaign - have the chance to reach the final for the first time with a victory at the Riazor stadium on what Irureta called "the biggest night in the club's history".

'Open game'
Renowned in Spain as a wily customer, Irureta was expecting a thrilling encounter in Galicia with both teams throwing caution to the wind. "I think we will see a more open game," he told uefa.com. "We will see more risks being taken - much more than in the first leg - and tactics will also come into it."

Pressure on
After reaching the semi-finals with a terrific 4-0 win against AC Milan following a 4-1 defeat in their quarter-final first leg, Deportivo have made no secret of their formidable home form. Yet, with the tie balanced marginally in their favour, Irureta knows his side have everything to lose.

'High-risk match'
"This is a high-risk match," said the 56-year-old. "Much more than when we played Milan. Against Milan, we had just one objective - to claw back goals when the game was against us. But this time, with the score at 0-0 from the first leg, the game is wide open for both teams."

Famous victory
However, while the tactics employed against Milan may be of little use to Deportivo on Tuesday, the lift they got from that famous triumph continues to inspire Irureta's men.

'Huge boost'
"Considering the strength that Italian clubs have always had, being able to beat them has given us a huge boost," said the coach. "Last season it seemed there was a resurgence in Italian football. But Spanish football has now recovered some of the dominance we enjoyed in previous years."

Squad rotation
When Spanish rivals Madrid bowed out of the competition with a quarter-final defeat by AS Monaco FC, many blamed coach Carlos Queiroz's policy of fielding his best XI wherever possible. By contrast, Deportivo's progress has been put down to Irureta's successful squad rotation.

Even-handed approach
"For me rotating the squad is necessary in today's game," he said. "Perhaps you will have a player who is better than another, but if he is tired, he won't be able to give his best. Here there are no first-team regulars and no substitutes - everyone who goes out on to the pitch is a Depor player."

Home advantage
That policy has helped foster an excellent spirit at the Riazor, though they may need more than that to overcome José Mourinho's men, who have had an extra day to recover after losing 1-0 to Rio Ave FC in the league on Friday. However, Irureta was sure that Porto's extra rest would not prove the decisive factor. "I am sure that Porto will arrive in better condition than us - but we will be playing at home in the Riazor," he said.

Knee pledge
Should Deportivo win the European Champion Clubs' Cup, Irureta has vowed to travel an 80km stretch of the pilgrim's walk between La Coruña and Santiago de Compostela on his knees. A close friend recently presented the coach with a pair of blue knee-pads. They could well come in handy.

Last updated: 04/05/04 22.12CET

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