The marginal defeat at the hands of FC Groningen in Thursday’s playoff semi-final first leg has give Leo Beenhakker plenty of hope going into the return at De Kuip Sunday. The experienced coach feels that Feyenoord showed resilience in hanging on in there for so long despite having a man sent off halfway through the first half. ‘I’m very confident things will turn out well. The players now also have to believe they are good enough to beat Groningen.’

The caretaker coach again compared the game with a European tie Saturday. ‘In the Champions League you’re happy if you lose 2-1 at a club like Inter. You have to see these games in that light too.’

Beenhakker stressed again that a week is not enough time to turn the team around. In his first few days on the training pitch the Poland coach observed a number of minor frustrations and niggles between players. ‘The time is too short for me to solve anything structurally. So I’m just telling the lads: leave those frustrations behind. Lock them away and let them out again after the playoffs.’

As the last coach to lead Feyenoord to the league title, Beenhakker is well aware of the role a full stadium can play in driving the Maassiders on to victory. With ticket sales slow, he admitted that he would like to see a good turnout. ‘It would be bad if the stadium wasn’t full. Everyone who feels a bond with this club has to be there, certainly given what’s happened this season. These are the games that matter. We can all shout from the rooftops at the start of the season, but only the real fans will also come to De Kuip.’

Beenhakker has no place in his squad for Karim Saidi. The defender arrived at the stadium late Saturday. ‘As a result he’s put himself out of the squad,’ says Beenhakker. ‘No one is more important than the team, certainly in this phase of the season.’ Philippe Léonard takes Saidi’s place in the sixteen.

Stef Doedée will start on the bench as reserve keeper behind Henk Timmer. The youngster comes into the squad due to the absence of Erwin Mulder, who has an elbow problem, and Sherif Ekramy, who has had to return to Egypt for academic reasons. The keeper has a round of exams, as he did at the end of the last campaign. The Egyptian is studying for his future and also to avoid doing his national service, which students are exempt from in his homeland.

Groningen’s first-leg victory was welcomed with sustained applause from the fans last Thursday, but coach Ron Jans admitted to being nothing more than ‘reasonably satisfied’ with his team’s performance. That had everything do with his the home side’s failure to get a third goal against ten-man Feyenoord. ‘It would have been deserved,’ claimed Jans.

Groningen’s disappointment was compounded by the fact that the third goal was certainly within their reach. A lack of sharpness was clearly noticeable in front of goal. In the end the green and whites needed an injury-time leveller in the first half to get them on track, since Feyenoord looking fairly comfortable despite having a man less and the home fans were beginning to vent their frustrations verbally.

The hosts were well on top after the break though, and Feyenoord would have suffered a third straight drubbing to their northern countrymen if Groningen had shown more steel in the final third. At the end of the day it needed a long-distance drive by defender Gibril to edge his side ahead going into the second leg.

It means that Feyenoord need only a 1-0 win to progress Sunday, although FC Groningen will be looking to expose the Rotterdammers defensive frailties. Groningen coach Jans certainly feels it could be quite an occasion, which is why he has urged fans of both sides to get to De Kuip for half past two Sunday. There are still plenty of tickets left.

Feyenoord-FC Groningen
Sunday 13 May, 14:30 at De Kuip

Feyenoord: Timmer; Tiendalli, Vlaar, Bahia, Drenthe; Buijs, Lucius, Hofs; Castelen, Van Hooijdonk, Huysegems
FC Groningen: Van Loo; Svejdik, Sankoh, Kruiswijk, Van der Linden; Meerdink, Lovre, Matthijs, Levchenko; Nevland, Suárez


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