Skipper Christian Noboa believes FC Rubin Kazan are capable of "surprising the world" for the second time in a year when they host FC Barcelona in Group D.
Making their competition debut, the Russian champions pulled off one of the biggest shocks in UEFA Champions League history last term by defeating the titleholders 2-1 at Camp Nou on Matchday 3. They proved that was no fluke by holding Barça to a goalless draw on home soil, and Noboa is confident of posing more problems on Wednesday.
"We did it last year and surprised the whole world," the Ecuador midfielder told UEFA.com. "We'll have to fight very hard and play our very best. But why not do it again?"
Rubin ultimately missed out on the knockout stage last season, finishing third behind the Catalan club and eventual winners FC Internazionale Milano. Yet their side has evolved significantly since. "The Camp Nou win and the home draw are history," Noboa said. "Our team and our opponents' team have changed. If we want to win again we'll need to defend well again, but also try to control the game better. We only created two or three chances [at home] last year. We'll need to be more dangerous this time."
Coach Kurban Berdyev has had to alter the makeup of his side after striker Aleksandr Bukharov and former captain Sergei Semak moved to FC Zenit St. Petersburg. Several new faces arrived – including defenders Oleg Kuzmin and Salvatore Bocchetti, midfielder Carlos Eduardo, and strikers Obafemi Martins and Sergei Kornilenko – but the new-look outfit is taking time to gel.
Rubin are second in the Russian Premier-Liga and lost their Group D opener 1-0 at FC København, although Noboa remains positive. "It's difficult to tell if we are stronger or not," he reflected. "Our central defender Roman Sharonov is injured and Salvatore has come in. He doesn't speak Russian so that makes communication trickier. The new players need time to adapt but are all good personalities and we're helping them."
Noboa's language skills – he speaks Spanish, English and Russian – and strong character make him an important figure on and off the field. The 25-year-old schemer says he is enjoying the extra responsibility after inheriting the armband from Semak: "I feel comfortable in the role. I have the support of my coach and team-mates and that's important. But it doesn't really matter who wears the armband. If we want to do well in the Champions League, and get a result against Barcelona, we'll need 11 captains on the pitch."
Rubin earned widespread acclaim for last year's European exploits yet it is a measure of their growing ambition that Noboa is demanding an improved showing. "Last season we were happy to be participating and pleased to finish third," he explained. "We want to qualify this time. We want to move forward. It won't be easy against Barcelona, or against the others, but we want to get into the next round."
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