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The chance of a lifetime. That is how Feyenoord coach Bert van Marwijk sees today's UEFA Cup semi-final against Internazionale FC in Rotterdam.
'This is something special'
Ivan Córdoba's own goal in Milan seven days ago has left the Rotterdam club within 90 minutes of their first European final in 28 years. And as Van Marwijk says, "this is something special. Being so close to a final is something most of us will probably never experience again".
National pride at stake
Feyenoord twice fell at this stage in the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup in the 1990s - making AFC Ajax's appearance in the 1995/96 UEFA Champions League the last by a Dutch team in the final of a major European competition. So as well as restoring national pride, Van Marwijk's men also have the incentive of getting one over their domestic rivals. "Are you watching Amsterdam?" inquired 7,000 Feyenoord fans at San Siro last week. Well, if Feyenoord can build on their 1-0 first-leg lead, the viewers in the capital will be reaching for the 'off' button on their remote controls.
Vieri and Ronaldo could play
This would be a shame given the hosts' propensity for attacking football. "We are going to play our game, play our hearts out and try to score goals," Van Marwijk said. "I heard that Ronaldo and [Christian] Vieri might play for them, but it does not matter who is in their line-up because our tactics are always the same. We know what we have to do and we will look to our own strengths."
Kalou expected to play
One such strength is Bonaventure Kalou, Feyenoord's man of the match last time out. Although there is a question mark against his fitness, the Ivory Coast winger is expected to play despite a hamstring strain. "I hope to have Kalou," the coach confirmed. "He trained today [Wednesday] and it went well. I am willing to pick him unless the risk is too great." Central defender Patrick Paauwe should also return having sat out Sunday's goalless draw against NAC Breda with an ankle injury.
Suspension force changes
However, suspensions to Tomasz Rzasa and Shinji Ono mean Van Marwijk must shuffle his pack. Brett Emerton could be seconded to central midfield, with Christian Gyan and Mauricio Aros filling the full-back berths.
Meanwhile, Inter's president, Massimo Moratti, described as "lamentable" his team's weekend defeat by Atalanta BC, a result which cut the Nerazzurri's lead of Serie A to two points. Now the Italian media are putting tonight's game and the one against Brescia Calcio on Sunday in the must-win bracket.
Héctor Cúper, of course, insisted otherwise at his pre-match press conference. "You cannot judge my work at Inter on a cup semi-final. Nor can you say that our season ends with the Brescia game - there are three more league games after that," he said. "This is a very good Inter team. We will not be thinking about the Atalanta defeat, I keep the UEFA Cup separate from Serie A, because we have 90 minutes to reach a cup final. If we get one goal, it is game on again. The important thing will be to take our chances. That is what cost us the first leg."
The Argentinian has the perfect remedy for profligacy in a strike pairing of Christian Vieri and Ronaldo, both "probable" starters. But it is the defence where his problems lie: Córdoba serves a one-match ban, while Vratislav Gresko and Dario Simic are late withdrawals through injury. Consequently, Luigi Di Biagio may partner Marco Materazzi in the centre, while the candidates for the left-sided role are winger Andrés Guglielminpietro and youth-team players Salvatore Ferraro and Giovanni Pasquale.
Toldo back from suspension
If that was not bad enough, goalkeeper Francesco Toldo, himself back from suspension, has caused a stir with some less than complementary remarks about the hosts. Back to Van Marwijk: "That could help us. I will use the Toldo quotes to give my team extra motivation." As if it were needed.
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