KOEMAN KEEPING SQUAD ON ITS TOES DESPITE UPWARDS SPIRAL

The aches and pains are still being felt in the Feyenoord camp after a full-of-beans Uefa Cup performance Thursday, but Erwin Koeman’s squad now have to flick a switch and concentrate on the next challenge, a trip to Nijmegen to take on NEC in the Eredivisie Sunday lunchtime. The prize is a sixth successive league win, but despite a marked improvement in performances in recent weeks, the coach is wary of over-optimism. ‘Beating AZ is great, but it’s important the good results of recent weeks don’t make the players lazy. We cannot afford that.’

Feyenoord have been putting their best foot forward in recent weeks, save a certain cup game in Waalwijk. The coach appears to be getting the best out of his squad, which has not gone unnoticed in the stands, where the fans have warmed to their team’s hard work and determination. The journey Koeman’s squad has made was shown to optimal effect in the recent matches against AZ and Blackburn Rovers. Fortune favours the brave they say, and luck has certainly been on Feyenoord’s side at times during the present run – not least against AZ – but as brave as the Maassiders were against Emerton, Ooijer, Savage et al on Thursday there did not seem to be a lot in the way of fortune. Erwin Koenam watched his side put their Premiership visitors under the cosh for most of the match, but a fine performance by keeper Friedel, a lack of sharpness in front of goal and the referee’s failure to award a stonewall penalty when Emerton removed Huysegem’s boot as the Belgian positioned himself to shoot in the box all conspired against Feyenoord.

The hope will be that a similar performance will be forthcoming against NEC, this time with three points as reward. A win would cement Feyenoord’s position in the top four and generate more confidence ahead of the trip to AS Nancy, where the Rotterdammers will look to pick up the victory that will all but ensure them a place in the knockout stages of the Uefa Cup with a match to spare.

Danny Buijs will be available for the encounter in northeast France, but he won’t be making the trip to Nijmegen due to a suspension. Jonathan de Guzman is likely to come in for Buis in midfield, now the Canadian is seemingly back up near to match fitness after playing the last fifteen minutes Thursday. Otherwise there are unlikely to be any changes from the eleven that started against the English.

The league table doesn’t lie at the end of the season, but it is most liable to tell porkies when the campaign is just over a third of the way through, so NEC’s lowly fourteenth position is not a good indicator of the club’s suitability as Feyenoord’s next opponents. There are a number of players in the home side with a Feyenoord past who will be looking to show what they can do. Coach Mario Been certainly thinks so. ‘The lads will be motivated one hundred percent. Players like Babos, El-Akchaoui, Boutahar and Snoyl, but also Otten and Holman, who played for Excelsior but never made the step up to De Kuip, will be desperate to put in a good performance. They will want to prove something, which is only natural. And I also want to take three points from the club I love.’

Been is quick to stress that Feyenoord go into the match as overdogs. The results over the past month or so back that assumption, as Feyenoord target to extend their winning run in the league to six matches, while NEC are pretty much living hand to mouth. They won the goodwill of their fans a month ago with a 1-0 win against archrivals Vitesse, but have been unable to kick on since. The games against Roda JC and Excelsior ended all square, while FC Twente, Willem II and Sparta all came out of the tussle against the Nijmegen outfit with three points. FC Twente even repeated the trick in the cup, to end NEC’s interest in knockout football till next year.

The thing is that the club’s lowly placing is a bit of a mystery. They potentially have goals in them in the guise of the much-admired Romano Denneboom but just ten this season tells its own story. Gábor Babos has put his short and anything but sweet De Kuip adventure behind him and is now keeping goal to a high standard again. Said Boutahar would certainly keep his feet at a higher level and the same goes for the likes of Edgar Barreto and Andrzej Niedzielan. But neither has shown their potential yet, which is pretty much the story of NEC’s season.

EREDIVISIE
NEC-Feyenoord
Sunday 26 November, 12:30 at McDOS Goffert Stadium
Referee: Vink

PROBABLE LINE-UPS
Feyenoord: Timmer; Tiendalli, Lucius, Bahia, Drenthe; Greene, De Guzman, Hofs; Kolkka, Charisteas, Huysegems.
NEC: Babos; Nalbantoglu, Otten, Wisgerhof, El-Akchaoui; Barreto, Boutahar, Holman, Snoyl; Denneboom, Niedzielan.

LAST TEN LEAGUE MEETINGS
GOFFERT
8/2/2006 NEC - Feyenoord 1-2
8/5/2005 NEC - Feyenoord 2-0
28/1/2004 NEC - Feyenoord 1-2
16/3/2003 NEC - Feyenoord 1-2
8/9/2001 NEC - Feyenoord 0-3
DE KUIP
11/9/2005 Feyenoord - NEC 3-0
5/12/2004 Feyenoord - NEC 2-1
17/8/2003 Feyenoord - NEC 2-1
18/8/2002 Feyenoord - NEC 2-0
9/12/2001 Feyenoord - NEC 5-0
Feyenoord Business CLub
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