A home draw against understrength FC Barcelona will be enough to send Udinese Calcio into the UEFA Champions League Round of 16, but coach Serse Cosmi refuses to rate his side's chances of progress any higher than "30 per cent".
Point to prove
With the Spanish title-holders already qualified as Group C winners, the near sell-out crowd at the Stadio Friuli will be denied the spectacle of Europe's best player Ronadinho or strike partner Samuel Eto'o in action – an obvious fillip for Cosmi's men, but one which the Italian downplays: "Obviously it's better for us that Ronaldinho's not playing. But Barcelona have a squad of unparalleled quality anywhere in Europe. So they can replace these players with top quality like Henrik Larsson, Ludovic Giuly and Lionel Messi - players who will be highly motivated and with a point to prove."
A draw is enough
Thanks to a late rally which saw the Italian side rescue their fading UEFA Champions League hopes with a 2-1 win at Panathinaikos FC on Matchday 5, Udinese can afford the luxury of a draw against Frank Rijkaard's men. Indeed, if the Greek outfit beat Werder Bremen, Udinese would qualify even by losing to Barcelona, due to their superior head-to-head record against Panathinaikos. Yet Cosmi insists a happy ending is not guaranteed.
"The chances of us getting through are not great. All I can say is that it won't be enough to play like we did in Athens. We will have to play our best-ever match. I give us a 30 per cent chance of getting through." Given that Gianpaolo Pozzo, who has owned Udinese for almost 20 years, judged Sunday's 2-0 home defeat by AS Livorno Calcio "the worst performance I have seen from an Udinese side", the likelihood of a stellar showing is perhaps even less than Cosmi's lowly prediction.
His scepticism is rooted in an injury crisis that has claimed Cesare Natali and Giampiero Pinzi and raises serious questions about Felipe and Vincent Candela. Although Cosmi will probably risk both Vidigal and Vincenzo Iaquinta, who have succumbed to "a toe epidemic", Juarez could replace Felipe with Vidigal deputising for Candela should the Frenchman not recover.
Barcelona midfield player Xavi Hernández faces a six-month absence following surgery on a cruciate knee ligament injury, but remains confident that he will recover in time for the FIFA World Cup. "There are many months until the World Cup," he said. "I have spoken to [Spain coach] Luis Aragonés. He told me he’s counting on me, but at the moment he just hopes I recover soon."
Another individual struggling for fitness is coach Rijkaard, troubled by a lung infection that ruled him out of the 2-0 weekend win at Villarreal CF. In his absence, assistant Henk Ten Cate defended the Dutchman's selection policy. "We have a squad of 24 players and we can only choose eleven at a time," he said. "Eto'o is injured and Ronaldinho is a human being not a machine - the coach decided it was time to rest him, it's his prerogative. But whoever plays, we will be competitive and we always play to win. Werder Bremen needn't worry."
Ten Cate anticipates a defensive-looking Udinese lineup, ready to catch Barça on the break, but insisted this would not change his side's approach. "Udinese are capable of quick counterattacks so we will need to be careful but play our own game. We play with the ball to feet and won't change our style for anyone."
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