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By Carlos Urrutia
Louis van Gaal was originally brought to the Camp Nou in 1997 by the club's former president, Josep Lluís Núñez, for one reason - to win FC Barcelona the UEFA Champions League.
When, on one fateful night in May 2000, Barcelona lost at home to Spanish rivals Valencia CF in the semi-finals, Van Gaal felt compelled to resign in solidarity with the departing Núñez given the depth of public feeling at the defeat.
Fans welcome return
The Dutch coach's return to Camp Nou has surprisingly been widely welcomed due to the fans' realisation that, perhaps, the disciplined ways espoused by Van Gaal could be the key to a repeat of their 1992 European Champion Clubs' Cup triumph - having fallen at the semi-final stage to rivals Real Madrid CF last season, a result which left "a bad taste in the mouth" of midfield player Philip Cocu.
'Difficult to win'
However, Barcelona, trophyless for three years, suffered a humiliating defeat last week in the first round of the Spanish Cup, losing 3-2 to a regional third division outfit, Novelda CF, albeit with a team of mostly squad players. And Van Gaal admitted that their Champions League opener at home to Club Brugge KV would prove "difficult to win".
Van Gaal warning
"We have ambition, we will work and will be looking to go far, but it would be arrogant to say that Barcelona are above other teams when it comes to a chance of winning," he said. "Brugge have a good coach, and their players play with their head. I like their midfield a lot and they have forwards who can score."
Brugge need penalties
While Barcelona cruised through the third qualifying round, defeating Legia Warszawa 4-0 on aggregate, Brugge needed to rely on penalties in order to overcome FC Shakhtar Donetsk. The Belgian side have taken a novel approach to reducing the tension ahead of their return to the group stage, Norwegian coach Trond Sollied taking his team bowling to enhance team spirit. But their domestic form will give them enough of a boost - having won all five matches this season.
'A mental thing'
"I know Barcelona, I know that we have to be very cautious at the back, but I remember our games against Barcelona two years ago," said Sollied, referring to the teams' 2000/01 UEFA Cup third-round meeting. "In Brugge, we made two mistakes in defence and it was 0-2 instead of 0-0. But away we had a 1-1 draw so this is a mental thing.
'They must hesitate'
"We have to trouble them," added Sollied. "We must press them and make them hesitate. We are stronger defensively than before and can run better in midfield. Our organisation is great and that is the basis of success." Undoubtedly, Brugge's organisation will be tested to the limit at Camp Nou.
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