PFC CSKA Moskva midfielder Miloš Krasić hopes to cap an outstanding year by leading the Russian side into the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals for the first time.
Krasić was named Serbian player of the year after helping his country qualify for the FIFA World Cup and has enjoyed a standout season in Europe's premier club competition with four goals already. The focus now is on adding to that tally when CSKA meet Sevilla FC looking to improve on a 1-1 draw in the home leg of their first knockout round tie three weeks ago. "CSKA will go there to win," Krasić said. "We're aware of their strengths, but we'll try to play our football. We'll give everything to advance. It won't be easy, but CSKA have the quality and we just need to keep our discipline."
The 1-1 draw in Moscow was all the more impressive as it was CSKA's first competitive game since December. With the Russian league now under way, the Army Men are beginning to find match fitness and Krasić believes they will be stronger for the return. "We could have played better, but it was our first big game of the year. We weren't in our rhythm like Sevilla so they maybe had a slight advantage."
Sevilla's advantage would have been greater still had Mark González's brilliant second-half strike not cancelled out Álvaro Negredo's opener. The draw stretched CSKA's unbeaten run in the competition to four games since Leonid Slutsky replaced Juande Ramos in November and Krasić believes the new man in charge deserves credit for what he has achieved.
"Last year we changed coaches three times and that had a major impact, particularly because there are a lot of young players in the team," said the 25-year-old. "You need time to adapt to a new coach and new training methods. You can see this distracted the team because we finished fifth in the league last year, which is a big failure for a club like CSKA. Things changed following the arrival of Leonid Slutsky. He has introduced a philosophy that suits us."
Krasić has played a large part in that success. Since arriving six years ago he has grown into a key player while transforming from an out-and-out winger to a more versatile forward, willing to come inside in a freer role. Krasić helped CSKA become the first Russian side to lift a European trophy, the UEFA Cup in 2005, and he feels at home in Moscow. "Right from the start they gave me phenomenal support on a professional and personal level. It is great here and the city is exceptional.
"I was very young when I arrived at CSKA, and I found it difficult getting used to everything, leaving my family. I was fortunate to have two good friends at the club, Ivica Olić and Elvir Rahimić, a Croatian and a Bosnian who helped me a lot. They accepted me as soon as I arrived, drove me to training and anything I needed I could turn to them. They were great role models and I wanted to become like them."
Rahimić is still at CSKA, but Olić left four years ago, first joining Hamburger SV then FC Bayern München last summer. Having caught the eye of some of Europe top clubs this season, Krasić believes it is time to move on himself. "Although I am happy at CSKA, I believe the time has come to change my surroundings and display my qualities with another bigger team," he said.
Naturally, Krasić is determined to do go out on a high. "It would be a big achievement to get through to the quarter-finals. This is the first time CSKA have got out of the group and this is an enormous success us. But now we've got here we are determined to go further."
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