Ambitious FC Salzburg's UEFA Champions League dreams could be dashed tonight when they entertain FC Zürich in the second qualifying round.
The Austrian club, coached by the high-profile pair of Giovanni Trapattoni and Lothar Matthäus, came away from the Hardturm stadium in Switzerland last Wednesday with a 2-1 defeat - which could easily have been worse had Zürich pressed their advantage following René Aufhauser's 36th-minute dismissal. Salzburg have invested heavily for success under new ownership, signing former FC Bayern München striker Alexander Zickler, Chilean international Jorge Vargas from AS Livorno Calcio, SK Slavia Praha captain Karel Piták and FK Crvena Zvezda's Milan Dudić.
The all-star squad was put to the sword by Lucien Favre's team of largely homegrown talents in the first game. Zürich led 2-0 after 20 minutes before Swiss striker Johan Vonlanthen brought Salzburg back into contention, though the hosts might have scored more against ten men in the second half. Their failure to do so was, for some, a sign of Zürich's inexperience at this level, even if they started their domestic season with three straight wins. It was also a relief for Salzburg who can now reach the third qualifying round with a 1-0 home win tonight.
To achieve that, they will have to make their individual class count, while also being wary of any sucker punch. The Swiss champions' captain Marc Schneider is expecting an "aggressive approach" from Salzburg but is by no means daunted. "This will open up space for us," he said. Since beating FC Schaffhausen 2-0 at the weekend, Zürich have been training on the artificial pitch at the Stade de Suisse in Berne to prepare for a similar surface at Salzburg's Wals-Seizenheim stadium. "We like to play short passes, we have the players to play this way, and we know we can create dangerous situations. Salzburg could not handle this in the first match," Schneider said.
For all that, Salzburg's famous managerial duo are determined to move to within a tie of the prestigious group stage. The 67-year-old Trapattoni said: "The UEFA Cup is also a goal but I want to be in the UEFA Champions League. I want to be involved on this stage once again in my lifetime." Matthäus added: "I can promise one thing: the artificial pitch at our stadium will be burning." With Valencia CF, finalists in 2000 and 2001, lying in wait for the winners, things are only going to get hotter for one of these teams.
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