PFC Ludogorets Razgrad host FK Partizan on Wednesday in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League third qualifying round tie and captain Svetoslav Dyakov is one of many in Bulgaria hoping history will repeat itself.
Ludogorets won both legs when the sides met at the same juncture 12 months ago, Stoicho Stoev's team's first major scalp of a season in which they reached the last 16 of the UEFA Europa League. Now, with the Belgrade outfit once again barring Ludogorets' path to the play-offs, Dyakov is hoping the tie will be the springboard for another lengthy European adventure.
"Of course, we expect a typically fierce encounter," said the midfielder, who played all 180 minutes of those matches against Partizan. "We know each other very well from last season. In such games motivation, approach, mentality and physical conditions are very important. We should approach the game totally focused and we will give everything. Only 100% effort will help us. I am sure Partizan will do the same. I am sure Partizan will throw everything at us."
Like last season, Ludogorets entered the competition in the second qualifying round, defeating F91 Dudelange 5-1 on aggregate. However, there are plenty of differences 12 months on. Partizan have a different man in the dugout in the shape of Marko Nikolić and possess several new faces, including former FC Zenit winger Danko Lazović. Ludogorets have brought in Anicet, Wanderson and Brayan Angulo, but for Dyakov the key to victory could be experience.
"We gained so much from last season's European campaign," the 30-year-old said. "That will give us a lot of composure and confidence. Now we know what is important in these games and how to achieve it. Obviously, we have some new faces, but we managed to keep the squad and the level of the team is improving."
Despite Ludogorets' disappointing results at the beginning of the domestic season – they have not scored in taking one point from two A PFG fixtures – Dyakov is unworried. "We did not start well, but this is not a big problem at the moment," he explained. "Sometimes you need more luck. We created many good chances, but these things happen in football. Of course, we should be more focused in front of goal, but I am sure we will start scoring again soon.
"One hundred per cent effort is what I give. If you do not do that, targets will not be reached. I will not hide that we want at least to repeat our play-off participation from last season. We will be ready for Partizan."
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