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By Matthew Spiro in Marseille
Newcastle United FC manager Sir Bobby Robson has called on his injury-depleted team to produce "the game of their lives" against Olympique de Marseille in the UEFA Cup semi-final second leg today.
Newcastle have travelled to France without injury victims Jonathan Woodgate, Craig Bellamy, Kieron Dyer, Jermaine Jenas and Andy Griffin and, after a goalless first leg at St James' Park a fortnight ago, they face a daunting task against a Marseille team who have already beaten Liverpool FC and FC Internazionale at the Stade Vélodrome this season.
Neither side excelled last weekend, Marseille suffering a 1-0 home defeat by FC Metz, while Newcastle lost by the same score away against Manchester City FC. Sir Bobby, however, was in confident mood on the eve of the game, insisting that despite the injuries he still had "some exceptional players" capable of making history.
"It's a sad situation but we have still have some exceptional players and they know they have a chance to write some history for this football club. We haven't been in a European final for over 30 years and we might not get another chance. The players aren't stupid - they know what a wonderful opportunity this is and they have to take it."
Sir Bobby claimed that if his side played as well as they did against Chelsea FC - whom they beat 2-1 at home ten days ago - they would reach the final. "We will have basically the same side as the one that beat Chelsea and if we reproduce that performance, we'll take some stopping," he explained. "That means they have to play with commitment, enthusiasm, they have to show their ability and they have to fight until the last second."
Bowyer in contention
Titus Bramble and Andy O'Brien are set to continue in central defence in Woodgate's absence, while Lee Bowyer - recently back in training after a hamstring injury - could start in the absence of Dyer and Jenas. Robson, meanwhile, confirmed that there was no problem regarding the fitness of former Paris Saint-Germain FC winger Laurent Robert on his return to France.
"Laurent picked up a minor injury at Manchester City but he trained at 100 per cent yesterday," said the Newcastle manager. "He is very enthusiastic about this game and it's a great opportunity for him to show the French public his extraordinary ability."
'Very close game'
Marseille manager José Anigo, meanwhile, has a full squad to select from and admitted he was confident of adding Newcastle to his club's impressive list of UEFA Cup scalps. "I will be able to field my strongest side," he smiled. "I had a long meeting with the team this morning and
I have never seen a group of players so focused and so determined. I'm expecting a very close game, that's for sure, but I think we have the mental strength that is required to win."
Marlet to start
Anigo is likely to play Steve Marlet alongside the recently crowned French Player of the Year, Didier Drogba, who is looking to maintain his record of having scored in every round in which Marseille have played in the competition. "We have more goalscoring potential with Steve in the side and that is important because we are going to play a positive game," Anigo said. "Against Liverpool we made the mistake of playing cautiously in the early stages and we only woke up after they scored. This time we have to take the game to Newcastle from the off."
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