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Club Brugge KV coach Jan Ceulemans is determined to ensure that European football will still be played at the Jan Breydelstadion after Christmas. Victory against SK Rapid Wien on Wednesday night would tighten the Belgian champions' grip on third place in UEFA Champions League Group A, guaranteeing at least a UEFA Cup berth.
A 1-0 success in Austria on Matchday 3, secured by Boško Balaban's 75th-minute strike, has prompted Club Brugge to revise their targets. Before the game in Vienna, Ceulemans had set a goal of four points in total. Following their win, however, the 48-year-old is aiming for three more points against a Rapid side yet to get off the mark in the section.
"It's a very important game - if we win then we will definitely play European football after the winter," Ceulemans said. "But it won't be an easy game. Rapid could have won two weeks ago. It might help us that for them it is not enough to draw, they have to win and of course that will create space and openings for us. If we win we should stay realistic - we have to look at it match by match and see how the other teams get on before we think of qualifying for the next phase."
Club Brugge's injury crisis has eased to such an extent that Ceulemans now enjoys an embarrassment of riches, especially in attack. Norwegian forward Rune Lange scored a hat-trick in a reserve game against KAA Gent on Monday and returns to the squad for the first time since summer calf surgery. But Ceulemans will resist the temptation to throw him straight into the starting lineup, saying: "Lange will be on the bench and I hope we don't have to use him because he has only played two reserve matches. We can count on him in difficult moments but I hope we don't have to rely on him too much on Wednesday."
Instead, Ceulemans confirmed that 35-year-old Gert Verheyen, left on the bench in Austria, will start alongside Balaban and Javier Portillo, whose confidence is high after he struck twice in Saturday's 2-1 victory against Gent. Defender Marek Špilár, suspended for that game, returns and left-back Jonathan Blondel has recovered from a slight knock.
Rapid coach Josef Hickersberger challenged his players to make up for the loss of midfielder Andreas Ivanschitz, his creative hub, who is out with flu. "He is a key player but football is a team game and it's up to the other players to compensate for his absence."
First-choice goalkeeper Helge Payer (achilles) and defender Jozef Valachovič (tendinitis) are also sidelined for a match Hickersberger expects to be open and entertaining. "I expect an interesting game with two teams that want to score goals," said the 57-year-old, who takes charge of Austria's national team on 1 January. "We have to win to try and get a UEFA Cup place but it will be a tough task.
Brugge start as favourites as they beat us in Vienna, but we play better in away matches."
'Nothing to lose'
Belgian striker Axel Lawaree will lead the Rapid line having never experienced victory or scored at the Jan Breydelstadion. "We have nothing to lose - we have to win otherwise we'll finish fourth," said the former R. Standard Liège and R. Excelsior Mouscron man. "Every player needs to think like that, then we'll have a chance."
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