By Matthew Spiro
Two great football minds will clash when AS Monaco FC take on PSV Eindhoven for a place in the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals tonight.
There is not much left in football that Didier Deschamps and Guus Hiddink are yet to experience. But as the respective coaches of Monaco and PSV, obtaining success in Europe this season represents as big a challenge as they have faced.
Former France captain Deschamps enjoyed a glittering playing career prior to becoming Monaco coach. Hiddink, on the other hand, had an undistinguished time on the pitch before embarking on a managerial journey that has already spanned three decades and included spells in charge of Fenerbahçe SK, Valencia CF, the Netherlands, Real Madrid CF and the Korean Republic.
On Wednesday, Deschamps and Hiddink will be calling on all their big-match experience at the Stade Louis II. "Matches at this level are often decided by small details," Deschamps said. "As a coach you can give your team the best chance by preparing them as thoroughly as possible."
The first leg was decided by a small detail. After eight minutes, PSV defender Alex lost his marker at a corner and headed in the only goal. "I was supposed to be on Alex," Monaco defender Gaël Givet admitted. "It was an unfortunate mistake." Deschamps knows they cannot afford similar lapses at home. "We have zero margin for error now," he said. "We could live to regret our failure to score in Eindhoven."
PSV savour victory
The PSV fans will have savoured that victory after seeing their team beaten 2-1 by Monaco in Eindhoven last season. Hiddink had cannily put pressure on the 2003/04 finalists by insisting that they had more to lose. "When we played Monaco last year, we were the favourites and they beat us. This year Monaco will arrive with a different reputation altogether," he said.
Threat from wing
The wing play of Ji-Sung Park and Jefferson Farfán was one of the main factors behind that victory. Hiddink, who guided PSV to European Champion Clubs' Cup glory in 1988 during his first spell in charge, has a reputation for producing exciting, attacking teams. He invariably employs two wingers and the current duo, who have taken over from Arjen Robben and Dennis Rommedahl, posed a constant threat a fortnight ago.
Last season it was Monaco's wide men, Ludovic Giuly and Jérôme Rothen, who set up the victory with their menacing forays. But while Hiddink found direct replacements for his departed stars, Deschamps opted for a change of strategy by signing versatile forwards rather than natural wingers.
The Monaco boss frequently switched formations in the first half of the season, starting with a 3-5-2 before changing to 4-3-1-2, then 4-2-1-3 and finally settling on a more standard 4-4-2. "Like everyone, I've made mistakes and I'll continue to make mistakes," Deschamps said recently.
The 36-year-old has not made many in his short managerial career. Last season's run to the final included victories against Madrid and Chelsea FC, although the players regard the win in Eindhoven as the most important. "It made us realise that we were worthy of the Champions League," said goalkeeper Flavio Roma. Midfield player Jaroslav Plašil concurred, adding: "
Deschamps is a winner and he helped us believe that we are good enough to play at this level."
The problem facing Monaco is that Hiddink, too, is a winner and only one of the charismatic coaches will make it to the quarter-finals.
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