Many at De Kuip would prefer to delay Feyenoord’s season opener at Groningen, coming as it does just a couple of days after the loss of the club’s highest profile player, Dirk Kuyt. The striker’s departure, together with Salomon Kalou’s exit and Romeo Castelen’s injury means that Koeman now has to do without an attacking trio that produced 46 goals last campaign. ‘But we cannot let it get us down. I could go into the dressing room with a long face, but then we might as well not bother going to Groningen,’ says Erwin Koeman, who also has to do without the suspended Nicky Hofs at Euroborg stadium.

Koeman has taken the line set out by technical manager Peter Bosz and commercial director Chris Woerts, who both suggested that there was no reason for panic. The coach met with management for the second time in 24 hours Friday to discuss the possibility of recruiting a new striker. ‘But that doesn’t mean we’ll now be bringing in a player for the sake of it and rushing things,’ says Koeman. ‘We’re not going to throw money about. We have to be creative about attracting players. We have to fill out and strengthen the squad. One way we can do that is by bringing in a midfielder and a defender. I know what Feyenoord have to spend; we have to be creative with that. A striker of Dirk Kuyt’s standard is beyond our means.’

Kuyt’s departure just days before the Eredivisie gets underway has been a real disappointment for everyone at the club. Despite the litres of ink that have been used to repeat rumours about where the international would end up, Koeman felt that he would not lose his star man. ‘It has hung over us the whole time but there was no concrete interest and the league was getting closer and closer, so I hoped he would stay. It became clear on Sunday that his departure was imminent. From then on in everything went very fast. The transfer has come at a very unfortunately time. But we have to keep our heads up. We have to give Groningen their first defeat of the season on Sunday. Although it’s true that its easier said than done.’

It remains unclear how Feyenoord will line up at Euroborg stadium. The squad trained behind closed doors Friday, which means there is plenty of speculation and little in the way of certainty. Pierre van Hooijdonk would look a good bet to start in attack, while Pascal Bosschaart has the right credentials to deputise for the suspended Nicky Hofs in midfield.

Mohammed Abubakari, Sebastián Pardo, Romeo Castelen, Patrick Lodewijks, Karim Saidi and Alfred Schreuder are all ruled out with injuries.

Expectations are high in Groningen as the season kicks off with the visit of just about the highest profile opponents in the country. Buoyed by the club’s new 20,000 stadium, Ron Jans piloted his side to a fine fifth-place finish last time round and he’ll be fired up to prove that was no fluke. The initial target is a place in the top nine and so a place in the European playoffs, but a glance down the roster would suggest that the northerners hold higher aspirations. Gijs Luirink did move to AZ, but otherwise the green and whites seem to have strengthened in a number of areas. All told, it promises to be a tough opener for Feyenoord.

Unbeaten on home turf in preseason, where Groningen held both FC Porto and Aston Villa to 2-2 draws, Jans and co will start the 2006-07 campaign in confident mood. Uruguay’s Luis Suárez has come in as an extra attacker alongside Glenn Salmon and Erik Nevland, while Goran Lovré’s arrival from Anderlecht looks like a good bit of business. He takes his place alongside midfield dynamo Danny Buijs and the technically gifted Evgeniy Levchenko, with Rasmus Lindgren also in the mix after securing a permanent deal following a loan spell from Ajax.

If there is a concern it’s in defence, where the loss of Luirink has hit hard. Ondrej Svejdik was brought in to replace him, but the talented Czech will need time to adapt. Jans can also opt for Gibril Sankoh, but you never know which Sankoh will turn up. Central defender Arnold Kruiswijk is often overlooked and there are few alternatives if Paul Matthijs and Antoine van der Linden pick up an injury or suspension, which means, all in all, the defence looks shakier than it did last season.

FC Groningen – Feyenoord
Dateline: Sunday 20 August at 14:30
Venue: Euroborg stadium, Groningen
Referee: Temmink

Feyenoord: Timmer; Greene, Vlaar, Bahia, Drenthe; De Guzman, Bosschaart, Lucius; De Ceulaer, Van Hooijdonk, Huysegems

FC Groningen: Roorda; Matthijs, Sankoh, Kruiswijk, Van der Linden; Buijs, Lindgren, Levchenko, Lovré; Salmon, Nevland

26/2/2006 FC Groningen – Feyenoord 1-1
24/4/2005 FC Groningen – Feyenoord 0-2
2/11/2003 FC Groningen – Feyenoord 3-3
3/11/2002 FC Groningen – Feyenoord 0-2
10/2/2002 FC Groningen – Feyenoord 0-1

16/10/2005 Feyenoord – FC Groningen 4-1
21/11/2004 Feyenoord – FC Groningen 1-2
2/5/2004 Feyenoord – FC Groningen 1-2
23/2/2003 Feyenoord – FC Groningen 4-1
14/10/2001 Feyenoord – FC Groningen 1-0

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