Borussia Dortmund fans will be offered tea and pies at Zenit St Petersburg on Tuesday but there will be no such generosity on the pitch with the Russians intent on reaching their first Champions League quarterfinal. Zenit would appear to be rank outsiders against last season’s runners-up after scraping through the group stage with a measly six points, the lowest-ever total with which a team has reached the round of 16.
They mustered only one win in six group games and finished their campaign by losing 4-1 at Austria Vienna. They will also be rusty after a two-month winter break and will have to close part of the Petrovsky stadium as a punishment for racist behaviour by their fans in the Austria Vienna match.
Even in an unusually mild Russian winter, it all adds up to a pretty grim outlook, yet Zenit coach Luciano Spalletti is anything but discouraged, claiming that the group stage results did not reflect their performances.
“The team live for this competition and their careers are driven by it,” the Italian, whose team will be playing their first competitive match since early December, told UEFA.com.
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“We have played in the Champions League for many years now, and we’ve fought well this season. We have many important qualities which means we can play at this level,” he added.
Dortmund amassed 12 points in a much tougher group, featuring Napoli, Arsenal and Olympique Marseille although their domestic form has been inconsistent. After winning the Bundesliga titles in 2011 and 2012 and finishing second last season, they have had some ups and downs this season and are currently third.
On Saturday, they suffered their heaviest away defeat for four seasons when they went down 3-0 at Hamburg SV but coach Juergen Klopp was confident they would rally.
“We have often shown the right reaction in the Champions League in the past after losing league games,” he said.
“It’s a completely different competition,” added midfielder Nuri Sahin. “We will be well prepared in St Petersburg and we want to get a good result to bring back to Dortmund.”
Zenit have been ordered to close four sections of the Petrovsky stadium used by ultras and organise extra security measures following the incidents in Vienna, where their fans displayed racist banners and let off fireworks.
The club’s general manager Maxim Mitrofanov said that season ticket holders for the ultras sections would not be allowed in other parts of the stadium, even if they bought tickets.
He also warned of delays entering the ground as club employees checked that none of the banned fans was trying to get in.
“We understand that it’s hard to be outside at the stadium for a long time,” he said. “Petrovsky does not have the most comfortable infrastructure, unfortunately, especially in winter time. So we’re going to give Borussia fans hot tea, and treat them to pirozhki (Russian pies). We’ll show them true Russian hospitality, to soften the influence of any cold weather on the match.”
good chance for greeks
Athens: Olympiakos Piraeus may never have a better chance to overcome their Manchester United hoodoo than in Tuesday’s first leg of their last-16 Champions League tie. Yet a rejuvenated United served the runaway Greek league leaders a warning of improving form in their 2-0 win at Crystal Palace in the Premier League on Saturday.
The Greek champions, who have reached this stage of the competition for the first time in four years, will have to make a piece of history if they are to overcome United after losing their four previous meetings. There is scope for optimism, for Michel’s team are in imperious form, unbeaten in 26 league matches and holders of a 23-point lead at the top of the Super League.
Olympiakos head into the match on the back of a 4-0 win over OFI Crete on Saturday in which recent Serbian signing Marko Scepovic scored the first hat-trick of his career. “I would like to see the same concentration, passion and appetite from my players against United as they showed in the game against OFI,” Michel said after the club’s 24th victory in 26 league matches.
“We have turned a page and our minds are fully focused on the Champions League match with United, I can see the appetite in the eyes and on the faces of my players; they are so eager for it,” he commented on his Facebook account on Sunday.
Michel will, however, be without one of his senior players after former Argentina striker Javier Saviola picked up a leg injury and was ruled out. Saviola’s absence means 21-year-old Nigerian striker Michael Olaitan, who has scored eight times in 15 appearances this season, is likely to start up front with Argentine attacking midfielder Alejandro Dominguez playing just behind.
United travel to Greece with the Champions League their only chance of winning a trophy this season, although that chance is a long shot at best. On the plus side, Wayne Rooney pledged his long term future to United last week before scoring a superb goal in Saturday’s victory. Also, manager David Moyes was able to include Marouane Fellaini in the starting lineup against Palace after his long injury absence.