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Craig Levein <-auth Graham Bean auth-> Tonny Kolbech Poulsen
[D Kuyt 22] ;[B Goor 58] ;[D Kuyt 83]
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Hearts won't cower at class of Feyenoord

Levein says hard work and team spirit can stifle Dutch


HAVING played football at the very highest level, Craig Levein is not the sort to be fazed by reputations. It was hardly surprising yesterday, then, when the Hearts head coach dismissed any notions of fear he or his players might harbour at the prospect of facing Ruud Gullit’s Feyenoord in the Netherlands tonight in their opening UEFA Cup group match.

Levein, who has performed at the World Cup finals, knows good players when he sees them, and he saw plenty at the weekend when he watched Feyenoord defeat Roda JC to go top of the Dutch league. But he also knows his own players are made of strong stuff, and while they may not possess the quality of their opponents, they are not lacking in spirit, industry or determination.

If these traditional Scottish footballing virtues are not enough, then Levein will accept Feyenoord deserved to win. Until then, he will implore his players to give him every last drop of sweat in their bid to take something from arguably the toughest match they will face in Group A, a section that also contains Schalke, Basel and Ferencvaros.

"Nobody gives us a chance, but that’s when we’re at our best," Levein said. "The reason I go into these games with a fair amount of confidence is that I know what I’m going to get from my players. I’m not going to say we’re going to win the match, but what I do know is that we’ve got 11 guys who are a team. They don’t see one player as any better than anyone else. They will work extremely hard and if Feyenoord’s quality overcomes that, then so be it.

"We’re not worried by the crowd. We go to Ibrox or Celtic Park and face 60,000, so why should we be concerned about the crowd here?

"Feyenoord are top seeds and they’re top of the Dutch league just now. But we’re not here to be patsies to anybody. We’re here to work extremely hard for everyone who’s travelled across here to watch us and hopefully make them proud.

"We’ve shown what we’re capable of against Bordeaux and Braga but this will be our toughest test yet. They’re good enough to be playing in the Champions League and they might well be after this season. But we want to be involved at this level and test ourselves against this sort of opposition."

They may not have the reputation of Ajax, but Feyenoord are the most passionately supported team in the Netherlands. Their ground, officially called the Feyenoord Stadium but better known as "De Kuip" (The Tub), can generate a raucous atmosphere. It may lack the architectural virtuosity of the Municipal Stadium in Braga, but it promises to be a damn sight more intimidating, despite Levein’s apparent lack of concern.

UEFA Cup winners as recently as 2002, Feyenoord’s pedigree as European aristocrats was sealed the moment they defeated Celtic to win the Champions Cup final in Milan in 1970. It is a source of immense pride to the Rotterdam club that it was they, and not Ajax, who were the first Dutch club to lift Europe’s most glittering prize. While the Amsterdam side took away their crown in the years that followed, Feyenoord have managed sporadically to enjoy periods of domination both home and abroad.

The famous red and white halved shirts are currently filled by some of the most exciting young players in the Netherlands, most notably in attacking positions. Levein spoke glowingly yesterday of the talents of strikers Salomon Kalou and Dirk Kuyt, right-winger Romeo Castelen and Japanese midfielder Shinji Ono. He was less enamoured of their defence and believes they may be vulnerable at set-pieces.

It is for exactly this reason that the Hearts coach is desperate for Mark de Vries to be fit enough to play. If he is not, then Kevin McKenna will deputise. "They don’t have great height at the back," Levein explained. "They’ve got one defender over six feet and the rest are pretty small. I’m fairly certain we could cause them problems in the air. Kevin’s got the same stature [as De Vries] and I think the more height we have in the side the better. Set-pieces in particular are an area in which we must try to capitalise.

"But going forward, Feyenoord are a top-class side. In Kalou and Kuyt, they have the two top strikers in Holland at the moment. Kalou’s only 19 but he’s top scorer in the Dutch league and was exceptional when I went to see Feyenoord on Sunday.

"Castelen’s a real threat wide right. He’s very, very quick and at the top of his game right now because he’s just been called into the Dutch national squad. The other one who impressed was Ono, the Japanese international midfield player.

"That’s four players we really need to shut down and do our best to stop them playing. And that will be our game plan: we’re coming over here to trade blows, toe to toe."

Gullit is aware of the physical threat posed by Hearts but is determined his players won’t be sucked into a battle against what he perceives as a typically British side. "If you try to play their game, you will lose," said Gullit. "They play a physical game and try to get it into the box as quickly as possible. That’s not our game and if we try to do that we will struggle."

The Hearts defenders have been outstanding this season and much will depend tonight on how they cope with Feyenoord’s celebrated attack. The combination of the Dutch side’s flair and their noisy support means that if Hearts emerge from this test with anything other than a defeat it will go down as one of the outstanding results in their history.


Feyenoord: Babos; Gyan, Saidi, Paauwe, Basto; Castelen, Smolarek, Ono, Goor; Kalou, Kuyt.

Hearts: Gordon; Nielson, Pressley, Webster, Maybury; Stamp, MacFarlane, Hartley, Kisnorbo, McAllister; De Vries or McKenna

Taken from the Scotsman

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