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NK Dinamo Zagreb set two goals ahead of each European campaign: reach the UEFA Champions League group stage and aim to survive in continental competition beyond the winter.
The first goal was last achieved in 1999/2000, something they aim to correct when Malmö FF visit in the opening leg of their play-off on Wednesday. But it is the second that is considered the most important, and it has not been realised since they made the 1969/70 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup quarter-finals; every year seems like it could be where that wait ends, but there are signs this season might just be the one.
Dinamo showed their ambition with the renovation of their Maksimir Stadium, and to fill it they made an offer to fans for their UEFA Champions League campaign with tickets priced at €0.13 and €1.30. In the second and third qualifying round capacity crowds of 30,000 saw Dinamo defeat Neftçi PFK and HJK Helsinki and it will be packed again with queues 100 metres long when Malmö, fresh from knocking out Rangers FC, come calling.
"Although we think the stadium would be full anyway, we decided to make this gift to our fans to help us in this important match," said Dinamo director Damir Vrbanović, while captain Milan Badelj called the atmosphere "phenomenal" and added: "I can't remember when so many people have asked me for a ticket."
Coach Krunoslav Jurčić lost midfielder Arijan Adem to a suspended broken ankle in training on Tuesday and was already without forward Andrej Kramarić due to abdominal muscle problems, in addition to long-term midfield absentee Mehmed Alispahić. But his team are in good form after a 5-0 defeat of NK Karlovac. "I am not nervous," Jurčić said. "
I don't see how can we miss out on the Champions League group stage this season."
Malmö have never played in the group stage but did of course reach the 1979 European Champion Clubs' Cup final. Their domestic form has been mixed, sitting in Allsvenskan mid-table and drawing their last two games, a 1-1 league tie at Mjällby AIF and then a 2-2 result against AC Milan in a Sunday friendly featuring old boy Zlatan Ibrahimović, where Malmö started with their strongest XI but ended up using 26 players.
"I hope and believe that Malmö will make it to the group stage," said Ibrahimović, who praised one Malmö player in particular at his televised press conference. "I'm trying to get Ivo Pekalski to Milan," declared a grinning Ibrahimović. "But that's a secret." Left-back Miiko Albornoz, newly signed from IF Brommapojkarna, is eligible to start.
*Dinamo have signed midfielder Nikola Pokrivač from FC Salzburg though he will not be eligible for this play-off. He has signed a four-year contract having originally left Dinamo for AS Monaco FC in January 2008.
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