Goalkeeper Ivan Kelava said GNK Dinamo Zagreb are "looking better and better" as they look to continue a winning streak in their UEFA Champions League play-off opener against NK Maribor.
Having kicked off the season with a pair of draws, Dinamo have won their last seven games in all competitions and are itching for action against their rivals from the former Yugoslavia. "The atmosphere in the team is excellent," said Kelava. "We are winning, our form is improving and we are looking better and better. But we don't think it will be easy against Maribor. I don't expect we will finish it all off in the first match so we need to be at our best to get a good result."
The clubs met in the days of the former Yugoslavia and played more recently in the 2003/04 UEFA Champions League second qualifying round. Dinamo expect a huge crowd for the Slovenian champions' return to Zagreb, with cheap tickets and the desire to roar the home side into the group stage bringing fans out in force. "I doubt we can surprise Maribor," said Dinamo coach Ante Čačić, who has no new injury problems to contend with. "We are neighbours so we know everything about each other, but we will do all we can to find a way to beat them."
Maribor are also unbeaten in all competitions this season, and coach Darko Milanič said: "Dinamo have more top-quality players with pedigree than us, but sometimes on the pitch, that is not enough. We will have to play carefully and keep hold of the ball as much as we can.
Everybody knows that these are the two most important matches of many players' careers."
With over 1,000 Maribor fans expected to make the 120km journey south to cheer the team on in the Croatian capital, the importance of the occasion has been lost on no one. "It is in the air," said midfielder Aleš Mertelj. "We can smell it. We can feel it. It's not just a normal Champions League qualifier. It is a game between neighbours, between old rivals.
"We want to win in Zagreb," added the 25-year-old. "We cannot think about getting a draw or a narrow defeat. We know that we can score at the Maksimir. If every Maribor player gives 100% and more on the field in both legs, then we have a good chance of entering football heaven: the group stage of the Champions League."
©UEFA.com 1998-2017. All rights reserved.