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Feyenoord look to win their first European trophy since 1974 tomorrow night when they face BV Borussia Dortmund on home territory in the UEFA Cup final in Rotterdam.
In the 1970s, the Rotterdam side helped fuel a glorious spell of Dutch dominance of European football. Crowned European champions in 1970, Feyenoord won the UEFA Cup four years later, while in between AFC Ajax lifted the European Champion Clubs' Cup on three consecutive occasions. Since then the 14-times Dutch champions have failed to reach a European final of any kind, rendering their achievement in reaching this year's showpiece, coincidentally and fortuitously to be held at their own Feijenoord stadium, all the sweeter.
Landmark in sight
In Dortmund though Feyenoord will face doughty opponents. Champions of Europe just five years ago under the aegis of Ottmar Hitzfeld, Matthias Sammer's men are on a high after clinching the 1. Bundesliga title for the first time in six years, and the sixth time in total, last Saturday. Free of domestic distraction Dortmund are now seeking to join Juventus FC, AFC Ajax and FC Bayern München in the select band of sides to have lifted the European Cup, the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup and the UEFA Cup.
'Mental preparation not ideal'
However with the murder of Dutch politican Pim Fortuyn on Tuesday overshadowing all other events in the Netherlands, preparations for the game have been fraught - particularly for the hosts. "In training I talked to the players about what happened yesterday," said Feyenooord coach Bert van Marwijk at the pre-final press conference this afternoon. "The whole situation is very difficult. We'd had an excellent preparation time but the mental preparation was not ideal."
Sammer echoes Van Maarwijk
Dortmund coach Sammer, the youngest man to ever lead a side to the Bundesliga title, echoed Van Marwijk's sentiments, while also pointing out that the shocking events had perhaps affected the hosts more than the visitors. "It is one of the many things happening in Europe at this time," the former German international said. "We are thinking a lot about it because we are here we are but we will still play at 100 per cent. Nothing different has happened to us. We trained yesterday and today we met again but it did not influence us."
Kohler bows out
Sammer captained Dortmund to success in the UEFA Champions League in 1997 so he is well aware of what it takes to win a European crown. Wednesday night's game will see his erstwhile team-mate Jürgen Kohler, another survivor from the 1997 Dortmund side, finally bow out of competitive football after an illustrious 19-year career that has seen him win 105 international caps, the 1990 FIFA World Cup and EURO 96™ to name but a handful of his illustrious honours.
"I don't know what kind of feeling it is for him," Sammer said when asked for his opinion on Kohler, one of the undoubted legends of the modern German game. "But his career has been a fairytale if you look at what he's achieved." On Saturday, Kohler only appeared a late substitute in his 398th, and last, Bundesliga match against SV Werder Bremen and he may have to be content with a spot on the bench again on Wednesday..
Return to 4-4-2
Sammer confirmed on Tuesday that he was likely to switch back to his usual 4-4-2 formation, rather than keep faith with the more tactically adventurous attacking formation that beat Hamburg by the odd goal in seven on Saturday. Another Dortmund veteran, Stefan Reuter, is a doubt for the game with a back injury. "Reuter does have some problems," Sammer said. "We'll test him tomorrow [Wednesday] morning and see what happens." Christoph Metzelder misses the final through suspension while Sebastian Kehl is ineligble.
As for Feyenoord, Brett Emerton is suspended while Glenn Loovens, Ulrich van Gobbel and Ramon van Haaren are all out of contention with injuries. Ebi Smolarek will not be considered for selection after testing positive for a banned substance and van Merwijk's only real selection dilemma seems to be whether to start down the left wing with Robin van Persie, who has a slight knock, or Leonardo.
Dortmund have respect
Dortmund certainly have the respect of the Feyenoord players. At the pre-match press conference Pierre van Hooijdonk said: "Every team you come across in a final is a good team and has quality in the side. It's better to play Dortmund in just one match than over two legs as I think they have a better squad than ours." Meanwhile Feyenoord goalkeeper Edwin Zoetebier remarked: "I think that the Dortmund team is excellent. They are an excellent blend of creative players and discipline. Then there is Koller and Amoroso. I think these are the two most important players for Dortmund."
"No chance whatsoever"
Nevertheless, with the Bundesliga crown already to their name at the end of a long, hard season, Dortmund may find motivation harder to come by than their trophy-less hosts. Sammer himself does not rate his side's hopes if they play like they did in the second leg of their semi-final against Milan AC. "If we play like that, we have no chance whatsoever," he declared.
History provides a few pointers as to the possible outcome but no rock-solid evidence. The sides have met twice before in European competition, drawing on both occasions in the 1999/00 Champions League. German sides have the edge having won 16 major European trophies over the years to the Netherlands' creditable ten, but Feyenoord themselves have never lost a European final and will be loathe to lose that enviable record in front of their own supporters.
Drama to follow
Whether the sides can conjure as much drama and as many goals as Liverpool FC and Deportivo Alavés did in last season's nine-goal finale is doubtful. Nevertheless with 61,500 fans set to be in attendance and two lineups brimming with skill and invention a memorable occasion looks certain.
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