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The task could not be much harder for PSV Eindhoven if they are to pip RC Deportivo La Coruña to a place in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League.
Poor start costly
PSV must win by a 2-0 scoreline or by three clear goals - and hope AS Monaco FC do not lose against eliminated AEK Athens FC - if they are to continue their European campaign in the Champions League rather than the UEFA Cup. Deportivo beat PSV 2-0 on Matchday 2, and even though his side are unbeaten in Group C since then, PSV coach Guus Hiddink admits their slow start may have cost them.
"We played very wearily early on in the group," he said. "In the last few games we have recovered. We are sure of UEFA Cup football after the winter break and maybe that will take away some pressure. Besides, we are not the favourites." So how will his team approach the game? "We can play without fear but we must be sure of the attitude of all the players," Hiddink insisted. "
We must produce a strong mental effort, give everything and go for it."
Deportivo's campaign stumbled spectacularly on Matchday 4 with a record 8-3 defeat at Monaco, but they regained their composure to win 3-0 against AEK. However, coach Javier Irureta still bears some scars from that shocking reverse, and will make sure Deportivo don their traditional blue-and-white striped shirts rather than the orange-tinged outfit they wore in Monaco. "I know it is stupid, but the fact is I never liked those shirts and I never wanted them," he said.
Goals drying up
Ironically, scoring rather than conceding goals has been Deportivo's problem of late. Alberto Luque's winner against Málaga CF at the weekend was their first goal in four Primera División matches. "We have been lacking support from midfield and that is why we have not been creating as many chances," Irureta said.
Hiddink is aware that Deportivo are unlikely to collapse again as they did in Monaco and is preparing for a tough game. "Deportivo are a strong side," he said. "The big defeat in the away game against Monaco is not normal. The same goes for our 7-0 win against [FC] Volendam in the league last weekend."
Deportivo can still overhaul Monaco and top Group C - and therefore be seeded in Friday's draw - although they must gain more points against PSV than the French side do versus AEK. The teams are currently level on ten points, with PSV three behind. Irureta said: "That could happen and that is what we are going to fight for.
I want to finish first."
The Spaniards will almost certainly be without Brazilian midfield player Mauro Silva, who has a muscle problem with his right leg, and striker Walter Pandiani could be recalled in place of Diego Tristán. As for PSV, they are shorn of suspended midfield player Theo Lucius and injured Mark van Bommel, but Johann Vogel is training again after recovering from illness. André Ooijer will undergo a fitness test on his knee, as will Ernest Faber on his hamstring.
Deportivo defender César Martín, for one, believes the match could be decided by a single goal and has warned team-mates to beware Serbo-Montenegrin striker Mateja Kezman, who hit four of PSV's seven goals against Volendam.
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