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Toulouse FC welcome Liverpool FC on Wednesday with confidence high as European football returns to the southern French city for the first time in two decades.
'Climb the Himalayas'
Toulouse have only twice qualified for Europe, and start as underdogs against the five-times European Champion Clubs' Cup winners. After beating French title-holders Olympique Lyonnais 1-0 on Saturday though, there is a feeling anything is possible. Coach Elie Baup has compared overcoming Liverpool to "climbing the Himalayas" – but his players are up for the challenge. "Given how hot it will be, and the fact we have had more preparation time than them, we hope we can make them suffer," captain Nicolas Dieuze said ahead of the first-leg tie. "We will follow our coach's instructions. Baup knows all about European football and he can guide us to something special."
Getting this far is already an achievement. Toulouse's hopes of claiming a UEFA Champions League third qualifying round slot had seemed over when they lost four successive games in the run-in. Their luck turned on the penultimate day of the season, however. They were drawing 0-0 with FC Nantes Atlantique when the match was called off with four minutes remaining after a pitch invasion: they were awarded all three points. Toulouse duly won their final game and their third-placed finish was assured when LOSC Lille Métropole scored an added-time equaliser to rob Stade Rennais FC of the golden ticket.
With kick-off against Liverpool brought forward to 16.30CET, Toulouse are looking to make the most of their day in the sun. The rugby town has not felt such excitement about a football fixture since Diego Maradona's SSC Napoli were knocked out of the UEFA Cup in 1986/87, and home fans will be hoping for a similar upset. With striker Johan Elmander back in form after scoring on Saturday, Baup's biggest concern comes at centre-back where regular pairing Dominique Arribagé and Daniel Congré have long-term injuries and Hérita Ilunga is suspended. New signing Jon Jönsson has failed to convince so Dieuze should partner Mauro Cetto, though the pair have never played together. Midfielder Fabinho, meanwhile, is doubtful after sustaining a neck injury in training.
Liverpool launched their Premier League season later on Saturday by winning 2-1 at Aston Villa FC courtesy of Steven Gerrard's superb free-kick. Manager Rafael Benítez has no fresh injury worries but could make a number of changes with Peter Crouch and summer recruit Yossi Benayoun expected to feature. Liverpool return to the competition for the first time since losing to AC Milan in May, and captain Gerrard is urging his team-mates to follow the Rossoneri's example. "Athens can be a spur," he told uefa.com. "It was a big blow for everyone involved but good players and big clubs bounce back. You only have to look at AC Milan and how many finals they've reached over the years. We've got to use their attitude. They lost in Istanbul but bounced back to win in Athens. Who's to say we can't do the same?"
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