Petrovsky, St Petersburg
Tuesday 25 November 2008 – 18.30CET
Group H – Matchday 5
As FC Zenit St. Petersburg prepare to welcome Group H rivals Juventus to Russian soil, coach Dick Advocaat is insisting his side are more than capable of avenging their Matchday 1 defeat by the Bianconeri.
Indeed, Juve spent much of that match in Turin on the back foot, only to claim all three points via Alessandro Del Piero’s 76th-minute free-kick. “We didn’t deserve to lose,” said the Dutchman. “We played a really good match against a top Italian club. If we play on Tuesday like we did in Italy then we’ll get a result.” Zenit need a win to stay in contention for a place in the first knockout round, and Advocaat’s charges are raring to take on the two-time winners. “Sometimes guys come to me and say that they are tired or have other problems, but that hasn’t been the case for this encounter.”
Danny and Co will be buoyed their 3-1 win at FC Spartak Moskva on Saturday, the club’s record signing scoring twice as Zenit sealed fifth spot and a qualifying berth for next season’s inaugural edition of the UEFA Europa League. Although many fans have expressed disappointment with the team’s failure to defend their Premier-Liga title, Advocaat refused to be drawn into recriminations. “We are very happy with the commitment of our players and I can’t blame anyone,” said the 61-year-old.
Missing for Zenit will be injured midfielder Lee Ho and the suspended Sébastian Puygrenier, though Belgian defender Nicolas Lombaerts should be fit after picking up a calf injury against Spartak. “He’s been back in training already so I think he’ll be ready for the game,” said Advocaat, who must also choose whether to replace Radek Šírl with the fit-again Kim Dong Jin at left-back. The St Petersburg outfit visit Spanish giants Real Madrid CF in their final group game on 10 December, though Advocaat refuses to look beyond Tuesday’s encounter at the Petrovsky Stadium. “Juventus lost for the first time in six league games at the weekend but played well,” he said, referring to the 1-0 away loss to FC Internazionale Milano. “We have to go for the win if we want to be sure of at least a UEFA Cup place.”
Home and dry
Visitors Juventus, already assured of a place in the knockout stages after successive victories against Madrid, will be weakened by the absence of seven first-team players. “Of course, I don’t have a lot of options but I’ve chosen the best available players for the trip to St Petersburg,” said Juve coach Claudio Ranieri, for whom Gianluigi Buffon, David Trezeguet, Jonathan Zebina, Dario Kneževi?, Cristiano Zanetti, Christian Poulsen and Tiago are all out injured. “I’ll decide the squad after training and you’ll all see who’s in on the night,” added Ranieri when quizzed about Del Piero – the four-goal joint-leading scorer in the competition.
“There are no friendly matches in this tournament,” continued the former Chelsea manager, who was impressed with Zenit’s performance in the weekend win over Spartak. “They played a very good game and this encounter will not be easy for us.”
Šírl smells a rat as Juve juniors come calling
Czech Republic defender Radek Šírl expects no let-up from Juventus as the Turin side visit FC Zenit St. Petersburg with a last-16 place already secured, telling uefa.com their fringe players will have “double the motivation” to succeed.
The Serie A club arrived in St Petersburg with seven players unavailable through injury. But if ten points from their first four games have guaranteed Juventus a top-two finish in Group H, Šírl remains wary of the opposition they will provide on Matchday 5. “Those first-choice players will be replaced by fringe players who will have double the motivation to show the coach they should be in the first XI,” he warned.
While Zenit must win to have a definite chance of playing for qualification away to Real Madrid CF on Matchday 6, left-back Šírl notes that the pressure is off the visitors. “If Juventus needed a victory they would be more nervous, but they are already through and that means they are relaxed and can play their best football,” he said. “Since we are playing to win, it makes it harder for us.”
The 27-year-old is adamant that Saturday’s 1-0 defeat at title rivals FC Internazionale Milano will not dampen Juve’s ardour either. “Juventus are in great shape,” Šírl stressed. “The loss to Internazionale did not change my mind about that. They were beaten by a single goal by a very strong team, not by four or five. And in the group stage they have defeated Real Madrid home and away.”
The Russian Premier-Liga season ended on Saturday, with Zenit triumphing 3-1 at FC Spartak Moskva to snatch fifth place and a qualifying berth for the inaugural UEFA Europa League next term. “We were lucky,” said Širl. “Pre-season we were thinking about the championship or a top-three finish at worst so we could get into the Champions League, but we dropped a lot of points recently and would have finished eighth if we had lost in Moscow.”
The former CU Bohemians Praha player, who was suspended for the weekend’s command performance, continued: “The season was long and hard, demanding a lot of physical and mental effort. Some people say that now we can concentrate on the Champions League, but I wouldn’t say our domestic results have affected our European displays particularly. I have prepared well for every match and have kept focused.”