FC Levadia Tallinn coach Tarmo Rüütli says his side are in "good spirits" as they bid to upset FK Crvena Zvezda and become the first Estonian club to reach the UEFA Champions League third qualifying round.
Although the Serbian champions start as favourites after their 1-0 win in Belgrade last week, the slender margin of victory gives Rüütli reason to hope. "The away game showed that the situation is not hopeless for us, although I must admit Crvena Zvezda's chances are much better," Rüütli told uefa.com. "Not only do Red Star have a one-goal advantage, but objectively they are also the better team. However, we are playing at home so we're approaching the match in good spirits, hoping to reach the next round. The attitude is excellent and just the fact we have a chance means a lot to us."
Levadia are the only Estonian team to have played in the second qualifying round, but their previous outing at this level resulted in a 9-2 aggregate defeat by FC Shakhtar Donetsk in 2000/01. A spirited display by Levadia in Belgrade has ensured that a similar outcome is extremely unlikely, even though Rüütli believes there is a great gulf between the clubs. He said before the first leg that "comparing the teams is like comparing a shovel with a tank, although with shovels you can dig a trench and fend off their counterattacks." Levadia did exactly that in Serbia. Their strong defensive performance, supplemented by sharp attacks, kept the tie balanced despite Crvena Zvezda dominating possession. One great strike by Ognjen Koroman and a mistake from goalkeeper Artur Kotenko proved the difference.
Rüütli does have injury worries, however. Konstantin Vassiljev and Konstantin Nahk remain sidelined – though the latter may be included in Levadia's 18-man squad – while Russia striker Nikita Andreev is still not fully fit following his exertions at the UEFA European Under-19 Championship. Another forward, Ats Purje, has been dropped after his contract negotiations faltered. Nonetheless, Levadia president Viktor Levada is counting on a show of pride from his charges. "Last season we beat FC Twente in the UEFA Cup despite the Dutch team's budget being 15 times bigger than ours," he said. "This time we are up against Crvena Zvezda, whose budget is ten times bigger, so I believe we have a chance."
Red Star upbeat
Red Star coach Boško Djurovski has a full squad to choose from with Ecuadorian forward Franklin Salas recovering well from a muscle problem, and the mood in the squad is upbeat. "We have watched the first match on tape a few times and I don't think we played badly," Red Star midfielder Koroman said. "Levadia are a good team, their players are quite experienced and they're in the middle of their season. But I expect we'll have more space in second match and that we will use it to score, win and qualify for the third round."
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