By Greg Demetriou
PFC CSKA Moskva will have to overcome extreme cold and title-holders FC Porto if they are to consolidate second place in Group H.
Two wins wanted
The Russian side, who were dramatically deposed as domestic champions earlier this month, are level on four points with third-placed Paris Saint-Germain FC in a group dominated by Chelsea FC. CSKA know that two wins from their final two fixtures will take them through but it will be a tricky task in snowbound Moscow against a Porto team fighting for their lives on two points.
CSKA coach Valeri Gazzaev said the poor conditions would not work to his players' advantage. "It is the same problem for both sides. We play only two or three games a season in such conditions." Gazzaev added the "excellent facilities" at the club's training camp have helped, along with a heated dome over the Lokomotiv stadium's pitch.
"The pitch is heated and we can train at full strength," he said. "The only problem is that many players, except those who have played international matches, are short of regular football." While the Russian season finished on 11 November, Porto have shown good form of late to reach the Portuguese SuperLiga summit, although they were beaten 1-0 by Boavista FC on Saturday.
Gazzaev should have a strong squad at his disposal with only Nigerian right-back Chidi Odiah doubtful after a shoulder injury. One selection dilemma may be whether to find a place for Argentinian No10 Osmar Ferreyra, possibly at the expense of Deividas Semberas, should he require more creativity.
Further forward, Ivica Olic is nearing full fitness after a thigh problem and will almost certainly feature, despite Gazzaev admitting he has been "experiencing some troubles". With a strong lineup, the coach knows his side are favourites to triumph - a result which would eliminate Porto.
"We have home advantage but we still have to prove it," Gazzaev said. "
We have only one task - to win." He added that his players would need no incentive, because "anyone playing against Porto is highly motivated because they are the reigning champions".
Nor is there need for extra motivation in the Porto camp. Coach Víctor Fernández explained: "We face a decisive situation. Only three points can open the door to the next round for us." However, missing in Moscow will be goalkeeper Vítor Baía as he has a muscle injury.
Fernández is also worried about Diego, with the talented playmaker's availability depending on advice from the club's medical staff. "I doubt he will play," the coach said. "Everything will depend on what the doctors say." Such concerns are of more importance to Fernández than the conditions, although he is still wary.
"The most important thing will not be the temperature of the air, but the condition of the pitch," Fernández continued. "I think CSKA are more used to low temperatures and that will give them an advantage. But we are professionals and will be ready to play."
He added: "
CSKA are a good team but I think they are not at their best after they let the Russian title slip. They do not have stars in the squad, but still have plenty of attacking options." Facing the possibility of being the first Champions League holders to depart in the initial group stage, Porto will have to make sure they are not caught cold.
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