A deep sigh emanated from Gertjan Verbeek’s lungs not for the first time this season. Every match brings the chance of more fit players to choose from as they recover from their respective injuries. But on balance Verbeek always seems to be less to be happy than he had hoped. ‘It’s a familiar story by now,’ said Verbeek Friday. ‘A couple of players become available, but at the same time a couple of others are sidelined.’

The game in Groningen for instance sees the return of Jon Dahl Tomasson, who missed Wednesday’s tie against TOP Oss due to injury, but there will be no Theo Lucius. The defender broke a toe in training earlier this week and is expected to be out for two to three weeks. Tim de Cler is also a doubt. The defender has stomach flu.

‘The injuries are not just down to bad luck,’ explained Verbeek. ‘Most of the injured players started preseason behind schedule. They had just recovered from an injury or had had surgery. From there you are playing catch-up. You could say its bad luck that a goalkeeper stands on Lucius’s foot, but if he had been fully fit, sharp and alert it may not have happened. I’m not blaming Lucius, but it’s a fact.’

That doesn’t make Verbeek’s team selection for Sunday any easier. The coach has very few options to choose from, especially if De Cler is unable to play. It’s unfortunate that the opposition is so tough, feels Verbeek. ‘After Thursday’s difficult cup tie [a 2-3 victory at Hollandia] Groningen will be very driven on Sunday. Those lads will want to put things right at their own Euroborg. I’m taking it for granted that they will go all out in the first 20 minutes.’

Verbeek does feel that Feyenoord can take hope from their last two matches against Ajax and TOP Oss. ‘We should always perform like we did against Ajax. That game was the standard for us. We showed we could achieve that standard. It’s down to the players to do that more often. The more we achieve that standard, the more points we’ll earn.’


Feyenoord’s Sunday opponents FC Groningen sit proudly atop the Eredivisie after three games. Wins against Vitesse and FC Utrecht plus a draw at Heracles Almelo have given the northerners plenty of confidence.

Coach Ron Jans will be delighted with his defence, which has conceded just one goal in the process. Thanks not least to Luciano da Silva, who Jans has picked ahead of first-choice keeper Brian van Loo. Jans describes that decision as the most difficult one he’s had as a coach, but the Brazilian has not let him down, pulling off a string of fine saves to earn his side a point last week in Almelo.

Groningen and sc Heerenveen have been battling each other for the title best team in the north for years, but the green and whites have not been too proud to follow their Frisian neighbour’s lead in mining Scandinavia for talent, especially the Swedish variety.

The standout Nordic purchase is Marcus Berg. The striker knocked in 15 goals in 25 matches in his rookie Eredivisie season, flagging up his potential to a string of Dutch and foreign clubs. Berg decided to remain at Groningen for at least another season though and two more Swedes – Petter Andersson and Andreas Granqvist, have now joined him and left back Fredrik Stenman at the club.

Granqvist was a member of this summer’s Swedish squad at Euro 2008 and Groningen is his second stint away from his homeland. At Wigan Athletic the physically strong central defender made no more than 14 Premier League appearances, reason for him to rejoin his former club Helsingborg on a short-term deal.

Granqvist has made an impressive start to his Eredivisie career – Groningen have conceded just one goal in their three games this season. The Swede has also shown his qualities further up the park. His wonder goal against FC Utrecht justifiably made the headlines: Granquist dribbled from his own half to the edge of the opposition box before unleashing a powerful shot that sailed into the net.

Berg, Granqvist, Stenman and Andersson have only a handful of Swedish caps between them but Groningen’s progress has been duly noted in the north. Sweden coach Lars Lagerbäck will attend Sunday’s game to see whether his squad needs to be beefed up with some Dutch-based personnel.

FC Groningen – Feyenoord
28 September 2008, 14:30 at Euroborg stadium

Feyenoord: Timmer; Greene, Bahia, Hofland, De Cler (Wattamaleo); Bruins, Fer, Van Bronckhorst, Wijnaldum; Makaay and Tomasson.
FC Groningen: Luciano; De Roover, Granqvist, Sankoh, Stenman (Hiariej); Van de Laak, Lovre, Andersson, Levchenko; Gonzalo and Berg.

27/01/2008 Feyenoord - FC Groningen 1-1
08/04/2007 Feyenoord - FC Groningen 0-4
16/10/2005 Feyenoord - FC Groningen 4-1
21/11/2004 Feyenoord - FC Groningen 1-2
02/05/2004 Feyenoord - FC Groningen 1-2

25/11/2007 FC Groningen - Feyenoord 3-2
20/08/2006 FC Groningen - Feyenoord 3-0
26/02/2006 FC Groningen - Feyenoord 1-1
24/04/2005 FC Groningen - Feyenoord 0-2
02/11/2003 FC Groningen - Feyenoord 3-3
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