Bert van Marwijk admitted Friday that the squad were apprehensive prior to the past three games. The Rotterdammers met VVV-Venlo, AZ and NAC Breda, within a period of seven days. Aware that his squad was not the broadest he could hope for – he even described it as threadbare – the Feyenoord coach piloted his men to three crucial victories, including a semi-final triumph in the KNVB Cup. ‘There was a lot of relief after that win,’ said Van Marwijk. ‘We felt that we had battled through a tough period.’

Feyenoord’s performances and results are improving all the time, as the coach pointed out after the NAC game. Self-confidence was in short supply until a few short weeks ago, but it’s beginning to flow back, along with form. ‘There’s no formula for getting that back,’ admitted Van Marwijk. ‘I think it’s important that we hold on to certain invariables in tough times. Changing every week does not help the players.’

The players are certainly exuding more confidence at the moment. Van Marwijk had praise for two of them in particular: Kevin Hofland (‘I’m enjoying watching him’) and Giovanni van Bronckhorst (‘He played left back for four years at Barcelona. He now has a different role and he’s growing into it all the time’).

In spite of the upturn in form, Van Marwijk warned his side from taking Sunday’s derby too lightly. ‘Sparta away is not easy. They blew Roda KC away earlier this month, so that says something. And the team is battling against relegation.’

Van Marwijk is not likely to have Tim de Cler available for the game. The defender has hamstring problems. Henk Timmer’s inclusion is also uncertain. The keeper left Friday training early with a painful shoulder. Nicky Hofs on the other hand may be back in the picture, after recovering from a knee complaint.

New Sparta coach Foeke Booy proved in his last Dutch position at FC Utrecht that he was able to turn a group of individuals into a close-knit team. Booy demands that his players play for each other. With Booy now back from a stint in Saudi Arabia he’s hoping to create the same team spirit as he had in Utrecht. It won’t be a walk in the park, looking at the months preceding his arrival at Het Kasteel. Sparta do have a number of talented individuals in the likes of Boukhari, Dissels and Roberts. But team spirit is not a trait Sparta have been know for.

With that in mind, Booy appears to be the ideal coach. The principles became clear in the last game against NEC. The number one goal is getting the players playing for each other. Booy emphasised just that after the game, in response to Sjaak Polak’s public expression of his satisfaction at being left on the bench. The coach’s reaction was curt, but comprehensive: ‘It’s not about individuals, it’s about the team.’

The philosophy was not sufficiently embedded against NEC to yield an instant result. Sparta did lead 2-1 at one stage, but NEC rattled in three goals in the last eight minutes to take all three points 4-2. The Rotterdammers have a better return from their most recent home games, with wins against two Uefa Cup playoff contenders FC Utrecht and Roda JC.

Sparta are still just a point about the relegation playoff places themselves, so Feyenoord can certainly expect a fight against their cross-city rivals.

Sparta – Feyenoord
Sunday 23 March, 14:30 at Het Kasteel
Van Egmond

Wapenaar; Toet, Promes, Schenkel, Jaggy; Rutjes, Strootman, Boukhari; Dissels, Roberts, Emnes.
Feyenoord: Timmer (Ekramy); Lucius, Bahia, Hofland, Fer; Landzaat, Van Bronckhorst, Sahin; De Guzman, Mols, Bruins.

26/12/2007 Feyenoord - Sparta Rotterdam 2-0
23/12/2006 Feyenoord - Sparta Rotterdam 3-2
19/02/2006 Feyenoord - Sparta Rotterdam 4-0
19/08/2001 Feyenoord - Sparta Rotterdam 5-0
29/11/2000 Feyenoord - Sparta Rotterdam 2-1


10/09/2006 Sparta Rotterdam - Feyenoord 1-4
21/08/2005 Sparta Rotterdam - Feyenoord 1-3
24/03/2002 Sparta Rotterdam - Feyenoord 0-5
15/10/2000 Sparta Rotterdam - Feyenoord 1-4
04/12/1999 Sparta Rotterdam - Feyenoord 1-3
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