History may not be on their side but with a packed home stadium behind them, NK Maribor coach Darko Milanič believes his team can overturn a 2-1 deficit against GNK Dinamo Zagreb in their UEFA Champions League play-off.
Maribor's 12,400-capacity Stadion Ljudski vrt has been sold out for a week and Milanič is hopeful that level of support will make a difference to a club who last mounted a successful second-leg fightback in Europe 17 years ago – when beating Skonto FC in the 1995/96 UEFA Cup preliminary round. "We are delighted about the full stadium and our noisy supporters can help us on our way to the Champions League," said Milanič.
Goalkeeper Jasmin Handanovič was equally upbeat about Maribor's prospects at their home ground, where they are unbeaten in 2012 with 11 wins and two draws – including 4-1 victories over FK Željezničar and F91 Dudelange in the earlier qualifying rounds. "It is much easier to prepare for this kind of match if you know that the whole city, everyone around us and practically the whole country is giving you such strong support," he said.
Since succumbing 2-1 in Zagreb last Wednesday, Maribor have had the twin boosts of a 2-0 away success at NK Celje in the Slovene First League and the news that Brazilian striker Tavares has signed a new five-year contract. Milanič said Tavares and his fellow forwards would have to be at their best on Tuesday. "We know that tomorrow we have to score at least one goal and we have to win so we will start out much more focused on attack and our forward play."
Milanič is confident that "Dinamo cannot surprise us with anything" but knowing the visitors' threat – he singled out first-leg match winner Milan Badelj and playmaker Sammir – is one thing, stopping it quite another. Dinamo will be buoyant after Saturday's 6-0 rout of city rivals NK Zagreb, their ninth straight victory, which featured another two goals for the in-form Sammir.
The Brazilian warned Maribor there is more to come. "I believe I will be even better in Maribor. I think we showed in the first game that we are a better team and I expect us to repeat that in Maribor. We are looking for another victory, that's our goal."
Visiting coach Ante Čačić was also full of self-belief as he pointed out that Maribor owed their away goal in Croatia to Badelj finding his own net. "We have every right to be optimistic – after all we scored all three goals in the first match. Maribor didn't score." History says that Dinamo have never lost a knockout tie to Slovenian opposition and Maribor have work to do to change that statistic.
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