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Legia relish European challenge

Published: Wednesday 2 October 2002, 5.33CET
The Polish champions are looking for a lengthy UEFA Cup run this season.
Published: Wednesday 2 October 2002, 5.33CET

Legia relish European challenge

The Polish champions are looking for a lengthy UEFA Cup run this season.

By Maciej Iwanski

Dragomir Okuka led Legia Warszawa to their first Polish title in seven years last summer – delighting the club's enthusiastic fans along the way.

Solid and hard-working
Okuka's Legia are a solid, hard-working team, and after the disappointment of failing to reach the UEFA Champions League group competition, with FC Barcelona too strong for them in the third qualifying round, they opened their UEFA Cup 'consolation' campaign in fine style, hammering Dutchmen FC Utrecht 4-1 in a first round, first-leg encounter two weeks ago.

Note of warning
Okuka takes his Legia side into Thursday's second leg brimming with confidence, but warned that the tie is far from decided. Legia surprised many people in defeating Utrecht by such a big margin.
Dragomir Okuka: We played really well, and are in pole position for the second leg. It was a surprise, but not for me. I expected a tough match, and it was, despite the result. But Utrecht are a much better team at home, so we must stay calm and prepare for the fight.

It was your best match of the season so far.
DO: Yes, indeed. We always play much better against strong teams. The same thing happened in our recent domestic match against Wisla Kraków, which we won 3-2. I hope we can hit consistent form and play against every opponent like we did in the first leg against Utrecht.

In the summer, some good players left Legia. You expressed disappointment, but decided to stay.
DO: Indeed - it's not easy to leave when you have built a team like this Legia one. We won the title, and built a great relationship with the fans. With regard to transfers, players such as Maciej Murawski, Bartosz Karwan, Sylwester Czereszewski, Mariusz Piekarski left the club, and there was nothing I could do. Jacek Zielinski, Marek Jozwiak and Jacek Magiera renewed their contracts at the very last moment. This is the problem that all Polish clubs face. They have to sell to survive. That's why I think a lot must be changed before the Polish champions could make the group stages of the UEFA Champions League. It would be better if we did not have to sell our best players when there is a chance of making something happen. Legia have now bought two valuable players in Dariusz Dudek and Lukasz Surma. I think if we can hold our good first-leg result in Utrecht, we could go far in the UEFA Cup.

Do you agree that Polish clubs can compete with clubs regarded as average European teams, but have no chance against major opposition such as [FC] Barcelona or Manchester United [FC]?
DO: Polish clubs are about the same quality as clubs in Belgium, Turkey, Ukraine and the Netherlands - except PSV [Eindhoven], [AFC] Ajax and Feyenoord in the latter case, of course. Legia are even too strong for other Polish teams at the moment, but in our Champions League qualifying match against Barcelona, it was just not enough. People always wait for miracles, but they rarely materialise. Perhaps there might be a miracle in one match, but they don't happen as a rule.

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