‘The confidence is back,’ said a satisfied Feyenoord head coach Giovanni van Bronckhorst on Friday afternoon, two days ...
The delight and relief at progressing to the group stages of the Uefa Cup was tangible at De Kuip the day after the aggregate victory against Bulgaria’s Lokomotiv Sofia. There was also genuine appreciation for the unconditional support of the club’s fans, which played no small part in the side’s success. ‘The crowd were fantastic. The stadium was half full but they made enough noise for 40,000. That support really helped. The players say that themselves,’ said Erwin Koeman after Friday training.
Looking back on Feyenoord’s Uefa Cup struggle, Koeman took time to acknowledge the passionate support the club enjoys. ‘You see the crowd giving support like that in England too. Feyenoord supporters are famous for getting behind their team. Yesterday was fantastic in that respect. Exceptional. Four great games are now lined up. We’re looking forward to them. It’s good for the players. The more they play of those types of game, the better it is for their development.’
Feyenoord will be without the same players Sunday as against Lokomotiv Sofia. Romeo Castelen, Ron Vlaar, André Bahia, Pieter Collen and Alfred Schreuder are all unavailable. Angelos Charisteas and Philippe Léonard are again in the squad however, and there is a good chance that Koeman will field both players against NAC. Charisteas trained one hundred percent Friday. ‘If he is able to put in a full training again on Saturday, I’ll decided whether he plays or not. A starting place is a possibility. If he doesn’t play Pierre will be in attack. Charisteas could have come on against Lokomotiv, but I didn’t want to take an unnecessary risk. If the score-line had demanded it I would have.’
Léonard looks a cert to make his Feyenoord debut, although there’s little evidence to suggest the Belgian will play the full ninety minutes. Koeman was unwilling to say whether the left back would start on the pitch or on the bench.
NAC are slowly but surely starting to rinse away the bad taste of last season, when the club flirted with relegation, ultimately retaining their Eredivisie status in the playoffs. There was clearly a different approach at the start of this campaign, as the club management refrained from shooting their mouths off about targets and ambitions. As a result, the playing and coaching staff are not burdened down by expectation as they were twelve months ago. There’s always pressure of course, and NAC felt the heat in the curtain-raiser in Alkmaar when AZ took them apart in an 8-1 mauling.
New coach Ernie Brandts has managed to steady the ship since then however, even coming within a whisker of humbling Ajax, before Wesley Sneijder bagged a late brace to claim the points. That was followed by away wins at Vitesse and ADO, and while last week’s display against Willem II was less than electrifying, NAC did take a point from the game in a goalless draw.
The defence has been impressive in the last three matches, keeping a clean sheet in each of them, which has certainly softened the pain of the torrid time they had in Alkmaar. It all means that Edwin Zoetebier has not let in a league goal in the last 274 minutes, quite an achievement for the former Feyenoord keeper. One-time De Kuip defender Patrick Mtiliga has also had a foot and a head in the turnaround.
The duo are not the only ones to have found their way from Rotterdam to Breda. Edwin de Graaf is one of the mainstays of the team, while Brian Pinas was recently brought add an extra attacking dimension. Not forgetting Leonardo, who has won the hearts of his new fans, although the club’s technical staff are less enamoured of the Brazilian’s whims. It has led to Leonardo being dumped out of the first-team squad. He has had company too, because one-to-watch Anouar Diba has also found himself in the reserves, although he and Brandts have now declared an armistice.
Sunday 1 October, 14:30 at De Kuip
Feyenoord: Timmer; Buijs, Greene, Saidi, Drenthe (Léonard); Hofs, Lucius, Pardo, De Guzman; Boussaboun, Van Hooijdonk (Charisteas).
NAC Breda: Zoetebier; Elshot, Penders, Zwaanswijk, Mtiliga; De Graaf, Mathijssen, Zonneveld; Rigters, Leonardo, Pinas.
LAST TEN LEAGUE MEETINGS
14/8/2005 Feyenoord - NAC Breda 2-0
7/11/2004 Feyenoord - NAC Breda 4-0
31/8/2003 Feyenoord - NAC Breda 2-1
2/3/2003 Feyenoord - NAC Breda 2-1
7/4/2002 Feyenoord - NAC Breda 0-0
RAT VERLEGH STADIUM
12/2/2006 NAC Breda - Feyenoord 3-3
10/4/2005 NAC Breda - Feyenoord 0-2
4/4/2004 NAC Breda - Feyenoord 0-3
22/12/2002 NAC Breda - Feyenoord 1-1
4/11/2001 NAC Breda - Feyenoord 2-1