Slovak champions MSK Zilina have relished qualifying for the Champions League and are hungry for more as they brace to face star-laden Chelsea in their debut at home on Wednesday.
“We won’t sell ourselves short. We want to show our supporters quality football and we’d like to get some points from our meeting with Chelsea,” Zilina’s Czech coach Pavel Hapal told uefa.com.
Zilina are only the third Slovak team ever to reach the group stage after FC Kosice in 1997-98 and Artmedia Petrzalka in 2005-06.
On their way, the five-time Slovak champions eased past Malta’s Birkirkara, Bulgaria’s Litex Lovech and Sparta Prague from the neighbouring Czech Republic.
“Qualifying meant a lot, not only for the club but also for the town,” said Zilina captain Robert Jez.
“This success put us on the football map,” he added.
The “yellow-greens” got a confidence boost last weekend as they swung into the lead in the Slovak league with 16 points from eight games after beating Tatran Presov 2-1 at home.
But Chelsea have showed an even more impressive start to the English Premier League, winning all four opening games and scoring 17 goals against a single one conceded.
The two teams have already clashed, meeting in the Champions League third qualifying round in 2003, with Chelsea winning 2-0 in Zilina and 3-0 at Stamford Bridge.
Jez said that “Chelsea are clearly the odds-on favourites” in Group F, also comprising French side Marseille and Russia’s Spartak Moscow, who will play at Marseille on Wednesday.
“We want to enjoy all six games. We will face good and attractive rivals. Naturally it’s the games against Chelsea that we’re looking forward to the most,” he added.
“We’ll host players like Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba and that is something we’re looking forward to,” said Hapal.
But Drogba will be missing on Wednesday after UEFA banned him for two games for stamping on Inter Milan’s Thiago Motta in the last-16 phase of the Champions League last season.
He is likely to be replaced by another Ivory Coast striker, Salomon Kalou.
The Blues may welcome back Lampard, recovering from hernia surgery.
But they may also miss captain John Terry, who was taken off the pitch with a rib injury in the 3-1 win against West Ham on Saturday, with Ghana midfielder Michael Essien scoring twice.
Chelsea’s Czech keeper Petr Cech told www.sportinglife.com that “Zilina had to go through qualification and the fact they have made it into the group stages shows their quality”.
“Underestimating any team in the Champions League can only damage you,” Cech said before adding however that all the teams in Group F were “playable”.
Zilina, who will be in full strength on Wednesday, signed Bosnian midfielder Admir Vladavic from Austria’s Salzburg after reaching the group stage.
The Slovak team is also pinning high hopes on Momodou Ceesay, a 21-year-old Gambian striker, who came from Belgium’s Westerlo in the summer and charmed the fans with two goals against Sparta in the last qualifying round.
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