SK Sturm Graz may hold a theoretical advantage as they welcome FC BATE Borisov for the second leg of their UEFA Champions League play-off with the score 1-1 but home coach Franco Foda has more than a few concerns for Wednesday in Austria.
Sturm striker Roman Kienast fractured a metatarsal in last Tuesday's draw in Minsk, ruling him out for six weeks, to join Matthias Koch and Ferdinand Feldhofer on the sidelines, while Sandro Foda and Florian Kainz are doubtful with thigh problems. Forward Imre Szabics has also been suffering from an ankle complaint but, having missed the 1-1 draw with FC Salzburg at the weekend, looks set to start against BATE.
"[Kienast's] injury is bad news for Roman as well as for us," said Franco Foda, whose side are aiming to end an 11-year absence from the group stage. "But as a team we are so solid that we will get over this. We have had to cope with many setbacks and dealt with them. Luckily, I rested Szabics in Salzburg."
Szabics, who will be paired with either Samir Muratović, Mario Haas or Darko Bodul, believes the onus is on BATE to attack thanks to Manuel Weber's early away goal last week. "They need at least one goal to go through," the 30-year-old Szabics said. "That's something that can work in our favour as we are strong on the counterattack."
However, Foda is concerned by BATE midfielder Renan Bressan's return from suspension. "With him, they play a different kind of football," the Sturm coach said. "He can play the decisive balls, we have to be really aware of that. I want to reach our highest goal, but 90 difficult minutes separate us from it."
Although Bressan is back, Aleksandr Pavlov and Dmitri Likhtarovich are still missing from the BATE midfield while defender Igor Shitov has moved to FC Dinamo Moskva; a significant loss says coach Viktor Goncharenko. "It was Shitov's decision and we respect it," he said. "For three seasons he was our leading defender and he did a lot for the team. I wish him luck. We have reserves to cover this position. Maybe we lose something in the first phase but we'll try to find a balance."
While Sturm are seventh in Austria, BATE are nine points clear 22 games into the Belarusian season. Aiming to match their group-stage run of 2008/09, Goncharenko said: "Our chances are 50-50."
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