Andy Griffin says it would be unwise to write off Newcastle United FC's European aspirations.
By Simon Hart in Newcastle
The odds are weighed against Newcastle United FC and their hopes of claiming a UEFA Champions League quarter-final place but defender Andy Griffin believes it would be unwise to write them off just yet.
Still a chance
Sir Bobby Robson's team need a victory against Group A winners FC Barcelona tonight, and anything but a win for second-placed Internazionale FC at Bayer 04 Leverkusen, to progress in the competition. Griffin, a self-confessed "old-fashioned full-back", told uefa.com: "We have beaten the odds before. We have come through games where people were writing us off but, as the lads, the fans, the chairman and everyone to do with the club knows, we have got that self-belief. If there is a chance we will keep going."
Newcastle have escaped elimination once already, Griffin's winning goal against Juventus FC kick-starting their European campaign after three straight defeats in the first group stage. Subsequent victories against FC Dynamo Kyiv and Feyenoord completed a remarkable turnaround.
On the up
It is fitting that a rare Griffin strike should have been the starting point for the revival, for it mirrors his own change in fortune. A former England Under-21 international, he joined Newcastle in January 1998 but a series of injuries - including two hernia operations and a stress fracture of the back - had left him a largely peripheral figure. Last season, he was absent from September onwards. This term he has started all but one of Newcastle's Champions League matches.
Still only 24, Griffin believes Newcastle's youth - six of tonight's likely starting lineup are younger than him - has worked to their advantage in their first Champions League campaign together. Fear is not in the lexicon of a side placed third in the Premiership. "I think we have adapted well considering the amount of players who haven't played in the Champions League before. We are a very young team and there is not a lot of fear. When you are young you just want to go out and play your football and our attacking ability has been tremendous."
Newcastle's learning curve included a 4-1 home defeat by Inter in their opening Group A game. But they are fast learners and were "unlucky" only to draw at the San Siro last week. "We were sat in the dressing room afterwards and thought, 'We should have won this'."
The experience of manager Sir Bobby has helped - "He just wants you to go out and enjoy yourself and play to the best of your ability" - and the future is bright. "We are very young and we don't want [to have] two very good seasons and then fade away. We want to be a consistent team that qualifies for the Champions League year in, year out, plus one of the contenders for the Premeirship title."
Respect for Barça
But first tonight, when Newcastle "need a helping hand" from Leverkusen. Griffin considers Barcelona, 3-1 winners when these sides met at Camp Nou, the best team he has faced in Europe. "I have not played against a team who can pass the ball as well as Barcelona," he said. Just don't expect him to be afraid.