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Koeman forgets Rijkaard friendship

Published: Tuesday 28 March 2006, 11.52CET
Ronald Koeman insists SL Benfica's quarter-final against FC Barcelona is about the players, not the former Dutch team-mates on the touchline.
by Paul Saffer
from Lisbon

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Published: Tuesday 28 March 2006, 11.52CET

Koeman forgets Rijkaard friendship

Ronald Koeman insists SL Benfica's quarter-final against FC Barcelona is about the players, not the former Dutch team-mates on the touchline.

SL Benfica and FC Barcelona meet in the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals as the title-holders of Portugal and Spain; but as far as the coaches go, it is a Dutch rather than Iberian affair.

Dutch masters
Ronald Koeman - himself a European Champion Clubs' Cup winner with Barcelona - leads Benfica, at home on Tuesday in the first leg, while his former national-team colleague Frank Rijkaard coaches the visitors. But despite the links Koeman, who says he has not spoken to Rijkaard about the match since the last-eight draw, is playing down the significance of the Netherlands reunion. "It's nice, but we do not play, it is the players that will have to win," he said.

'Own characters'
Koeman added: "I think we have our own characters. We did learn together. I think he's doing a great job at Barcelona." Rijkaard himself said: "We have played together many times for the national team, but we know how to separate work from friendship."

Top scorer missing
As for the game, Koeman has two key selection dilemmas. Up front, leading scorer Nuno Gomes is suspended after a booking in the 2-0 win that eliminated holders Liverpool FC. Koeman noted: "Of course we will miss him because he is the top scorer of the team. But we have other players that can score as we saw against Liverpool." Fabrizio Miccoli came on as a substitute for Nuno Gomes at Anfield and struck the clincher, but has had recent fitness problems. Though Miccoli should be available, Geovanni may instead get the nod.

Nélson available
In defence, right-back Alcides is out of the tie with a knee injury. Nélson, until recently the automatic choice, has been suffering from a groin complaint, but Koeman said: "Nélson came through training, he will play." However, the coach had deployed the usually left-sided Ricardo Rocha as a surprise stand-in when Benfica defeated SC Braga 1-0 on Saturday, and reports in Portugal suggest he could be the man to line up against Ronaldinho. Koeman said of the Brazilian: "It is very difficult to stop him as he is a fantastic player."

Defensive concerns
Rijkaard, though, has absentees of his own. Captain Carles Puyol is suspended, and fellow defenders Edmílson and Rafael Márquez are injured. This could mean an intriguing pairing of Oleguer Presas with his former reserve-team partner, 21-year-old Rodri, who only made his first competitive start on Saturday in the 0-0 draw at Málaga CF. Rijkaard admits whichever combination he uses will have to be alert at set-pieces. "Benfica are a very good team at free-kicks and corners," he said. Argentinian prodigy Lionel Messi is also out with a torn thigh muscle. Henrik Larsson and Ludovic Giuly are possible replacements.

Simão reunion
Not only is it a Barcelona reunion for Koeman, but also for Benfica captain Simão, a Nou Camp man between 1999 and 2001. "It is a very special game for me because I will face my old team," he said, before talking up his current side's chances. "Manchester United [FC] and Liverpool were favourites and we beat them. I am sure we will have a good match - we are confident like all the people who come to our stadium."

Deco homecoming
Barcelona's Brazilian-born playmaker Deco, meanwhile, returns to his adopted homeland, having taken Portuguese nationality while at FC Porto. "I am so pleased to come back to Portugal," he said. "I came back two days early to enjoy being in Portugal again." But, as for the Dutch coaches, any friendships will be on hold on Tuesday evening.

Last updated: 28/03/06 13.11CET