Following their second successive UEFA Champions League defeat on Tuesday night, team morale at SK Rapid Wien might be expected to be rock bottom. According to striker Muhammet Akagündüz, however, Rapid have every reason to be cheerful as they prepare to take on second-placed SV Pasching in the Austrian Bundesliga on Saturday.
Rapid, who are last in Group A after losing 3-0 to Juventus FC, have made an indifferent start to the defence of their Bundesliga title and could soon lose their inspirational coach to the Austrian national team. But Akagündüz refuses to be downbeat. "UEFA Cup qualification is our main aim," he told uefa.com. "
Nobody really expected us to come to Italy and win."
'Best in the world'
It is an honest assessment from the Austrian international, who joined Rapid this season after two years playing in Turkey. But the much-travelled 27-year-old, nicknamed 'Aka' by his team-mates, knows there is a long way to go before the group is decided. He says there is no disgrace in losing to "one of the best sides in the world". What makes Tuesday's reverse easier to stomach is that Rapid's next Champions League opponents are also yet to put any points on the board.
Dream lives on
While Rapid were losing in Turin, Club Brugge KV went down 1-0 to FC Bayern München, a result that keeps Rapid's UEFA Cup dream alive. A win at home to the Belgian side on 18 October would put Rapid's European campaign right back on track. "We are aiming for third place," explained Aka. "It's all about beating [Club] Brugge. That's been our goal from the start. We know our strengths and we intend to use them to the full."
Those strengths were highlighted by Juventus coach Fabio Capello, whose players endured some nervous moments on Tuesday. "[Rapid] are a compact and hard-working side," he said. "They are very dangerous from set-pieces, particularly corners, and they are fast on the counterattack. What's more, they have very quick forwards, whose pace they like to exploit to the full." As one such striker, Akagündüz is hoping to use his speed when his side - lying third in the Bundesliga - travel to second-placed Pasching on Saturday.
The Turkish-born marksman scored in his side's last league match - a 2-0 win against VfB Admira Wacker Mödling - and expects to be equally effective at the weekend. Pasching are a less daunting prospect than the Italian champions and Rapid will fancy their chances on Saturday. Last weekend's victory against Admira stopped the rot of five games without a win and they know that a similar result at Pasching will see them leapfrog Georg Zellhofer's side and close on leaders FK Austria Wien.
As for the speculation surrounding coach Josef Hickersberger, it seems the former Austria coach will not be returning to his old post for the time being. "The coach has spoken to us and told us that no decisions have yet been made," revealed Rapid midfield player, and Austria captain, Andreas Ivanschitz. Furthermore, club president Rudolf Edlinger has declared that the 57-year-old will not be leaving Rapid until their Champions League adventure has ended. And even then, there may be a UEFA Cup campaign to follow.
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