Up until the end of last season Zoran Stratev was coach of F.Y.R. Macedonian club FK Cementarnica 55. Now, having taken the helm at domestic champions FK Vardar, Stratev faces the new challenge of UEFA Champions League football and has already made his mark by taking the club through the first qualifying round of the 2003/04 competition. uefa.com caught up with him ahead of his side's next qualifying clash against PFC CSKA Moskva.
uefa.com: How does it feel to be in the second qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League?
Zoran Stratev: We did not have much time to celebrate, since we had to start preparing for this very important challenge against CSKA Moskva. But I am very satisfied to reach the second round, because we have practically fulfilled our plans for this season. Now, of course, we will concentrate on the difficult matches against the Russians, and try our best to create a big upset.
uefa.com: How are you preparing for the CSKA tie?
Stratev: It's difficult to prepare in such a short period of time. The season for us has started very early - we have played in the first qualifying round, and the break between the previous and new season was only a few weeks. CSKA will have a huge advantage, since the Russian championship is ongoing, and we had a period of only 30 days to recover and start preparations. Nevertheless, we will not give up in advance. I believe in my players, so why shouldn't we be the side to create a surprise? An additional problem is that I took over as coach after the season ended, and so I have had a very short period to get to know the players. I am still determining the positive and negative aspects of my squad.
uefa.com: Are you someone who gets worked up on the bench, or are you able to keep control?
Stratev: I have been a coach for 15 years now. In the first five years of my career, I was very emotional on the bench, but as time passed, I became more and more calm. Now I am fully able to control my emotions and temper during a match.
uefa.com: Do you enjoy the tactical battle against opposing coaches? Are you someone who enjoys using his brain to out-think your opponents?
Stratev: While I was at Cementarnica, I enjoyed tactical battles against my colleagues from other clubs. Now I am with Vardar, I think it will be more my colleagues who are motivated to put one over on me tactically, since it is still a great challenge to win against Vardar. The tactical challenge for me now has been given a new dimension, in trying to see through coaches from abroad.
uefa.com: What characteristics do you look for in a player when you are trying to strengthen your squad?
Stratev: Discipline on the pitch and in the player's performance takes priority. I also respect other qualities like sincerity, motivation, willpower and desire to win.
uefa.com: Finally, tell us about your ambitions for the future.
Stratev My career has a taken an uphill direction. This is my fourth season in European competition and I think that I can achieve more in my career. Besides the Champions League, our ambition is to win the title and domestic cup again. As for the future of Vardar, the ambition of club officials and myself is to help these young and men grow into a powerful and experienced team who, in the coming years, could make it through to the higher stages of European competitions.
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