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They may not be able to unseat the two English clubs from the qualifying positions in Group G, but Real Betis Balompié coach Lorenzo Serra Ferrer feels his side have plenty to play for as they complete their maiden UEFA Champions League group stage campaign with a home tie against RSC Anderlecht.
The Belgian outfit are more seasoned European contenders, yet they visit southern Spain determined to end a run of 12 successive defeats in this competition. In contrast, Betis have acquitted themselves well, recovering from an opening home loss to Liverpool FC to take seven points from their ensuing four games, including a 1-0 Matchday 4 success against Chelsea FC at the Manuel Ruíz de Lopera and a goalless draw at Anfield.
With third place in the pool and a UEFA Cup spot assured, Betis could be forgiven for taking Tuesday's match lightly as they prepare for a crucial Primera División meeting with fellow strugglers RCD Espanyol on Sunday. Serra Ferrer disagrees, however, saying: "I will make changes but that doesn't mean we won't be trying to beat Anderlecht. We cannot forget that we're playing a Champions League match and have to do everything we can to maintain the positive image we've forged in this competition."
That image was never stronger than when Ricardo Oliveira scored the only goal against Chelsea, although a subsequent serious injury to the forward, and fellow striker Dani Martín's sprained ankle, have combined to play a part in Betis plummeting to the foot of the Spanish top flight. Saturday's 2-1 loss at RC Celta de Vigo left goalkeeper Antonio Doblas to admit: "We've hit rock bottom. The only thing we can think about doing is to lift ourselves up."
The Seville club's passionate supporters have stayed loyal, and a full house will greet Anderlecht. "We want a victory to give some joy to our fans because they deserve it," said Serra Ferrer. "We're obviously upset about what has happened to us in the league as that's been a big surprise to everybody. However, if we win against Anderlecht we will move to ten points - the highest total on which any team has previously been eliminated."
Midfielder Alberto Rivera concurred. "Our fans have been fantastic despite everything that has happened to us. We're all focusing on this match because we want to win - a victory could give us extra motivation for our league campaign." By contrast, Anderlecht go into the fixture flying high in the Belgian First Division, their 3-0 weekend win against KAA Gent keeping the Brussels club a point behind leaders R. Standard de Liège.
Coach Frank Vercauteren is without Serhat Akın (groin), Mark De Man (ankle) and the suspended Nenad Ještrović, although Mbo Mpenza should recover from a calf injury sustained against Gent. "We are not here as tourists - we're here to get our first victory," said Vercauteren. "I heard Betis put in their best performance of the season when they beat us 1-0 in Brussels, which shows we were a bit unlucky. We have the potential but sometimes we can't put what we're thinking into practice."
Vercauteren concluded: "I plan to change the team with five or six who've not played this season as I want them to get experience of this competition. The only certainty is that Bart Goor will play."
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