By Alex O'Henley in Newcastle
Newcastle United FC captain Alan Shearer has admitted that the two games against Olympique de Marseille in the UEFA Cup semi-final are his most important ever for the English club.
It is Newcastle's first appearance in a European semi-final since 1969, the year they won the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, and even though they are likely to be missing key players such as Craig Bellamy and Kieron Dyer through injury, Shearer is confident they can get a good result in the first leg at St James' Park tonight.
'Huge, huge tie'
"It's a massive game for us," Shearer told uefa.com. "We've got injuries which have come at the wrong time, but we can handle them. We've got a big enough squad. Fingers crossed, we'll be all right, but it is a huge, huge tie for us and one I am looking forward to immensely."
The 33-year-old former England captain is the joint top scorer in the tournament with six goals, but Shearer believes that solid defence is going to be vital if Newcastle are to have any chance of progressing to next month's final in Gothenburg.
"If we can go to Marseille with a clean sheet, whatever the score is here, then I think we would quietly fancy ourselves to do something over there, especially if we can get some of the injured players back for the second leg," he said. "We know we can score goals home and away, so if we were to win 1-0 tonight that would be a great result, but 0-0 wouldn't be the end of the world either."
Fame and fortune
Shearer's only career honour came when helping Blackburn Rovers FC to the Premiership title nine years ago. Perhaps not surprisingly, then, after last week's quarter-final victory against PSV Eindhoven, he said winning the UEFA Cup was more important to him than finishing fourth in the league and gaining entry to next season's UEFA Champions League.
"If someone was to offer me the UEFA Cup or fourth place in the league, fourth place wouldn't come into the equation," Shearer said. "
You don't get any silverware for finishing in fourth place, but you'll certainly get silverware for winning the UEFA Cup and that's what we aim to do.
For the fans
"It's probably more important for the fans because Newcastle is such a big football club, and they've gone without success for so long. When you see them turning out each week, both home and away and also in European matches, they really deserve a trophy and hopefully this will be our year and we can deliver one for them."
Shearer added that the nightmare scenario for Newcastle would be to reach the final and not win the trophy, the fate that befell Celtic FC last season when they lost to FC Porto. "If you get to the final you have to win it," he said. "If you don't, you might as well get knocked out in the first round.
"We're in it to win it, but then again so are Marseille and the two teams in the other semi-final. Marseille got knocked out of the Champions League, but they've had some good results in this competition and have some useful players. There's no doubt we'll have to be at our very best to get through this tie, but I think we're capable of doing it."
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