NK Dinamo Zagreb hope to turn a nightmare draw into a dream result when they take on Arsenal FC in the UEFA Champions League tonight.
Coach Josip Kuže had his sights on the group stage after defeating Lithuanian side FK Ekranas 9-3 on aggregate in the second qualifying round. Luck, though, was against him. "I was thinking - don't let it be Arsenal," he said. "But we got Arsenal." Dinamo now face a significant test of their continental credentials after a year out of European competition - the consequence of a poor 2004/05 season. Yet they are not abandoning hope.
The Croatian champions are being spurred on by ambitious vice-president Zdvravko Mamić. With a good management team in place, Dinamo signalled their new aspirations with the signing of former German international Jens Nowotny. "Everyone was very surprised that I chose Dinamo, but I was attracted for football reasons," said the ex-Bayer 04 Leverkusen defender.
"I can see this is a club with ambitions in the UEFA Champions League or UEFA Cup. I think I'm in the right place. When I was at Leverkusen we managed to beat Manchester United [FC], Liverpool [FC] and Arsenal [FC] despite having a very young side. There's no reason it shouldn't be the same with Dinamo Zagreb. Discipline is a very important element of our game and it could be crucial if we want to keep a clean sheet."
Nowotny was the club's biggest summer buy, though far from the only one. Dinamo re-signed the experienced Mario Cvitanović and Jasmin Agić after spells in Belgium and Japan respectively, while landing the promising Davor Vugrinec from HNK Rijeka. No less importantly, striker Eduardo da Silva, a Brazilian with a Croatian passport, has stayed, and a measure of Dinamo's strength in depth is a substitutes' bench featuring the likes of Brazilians Carlos and Anderson Costa as well as Goran Ljubojević, who scored a second-leg hat-trick against Ekranas.
With Arsenal struggling with injuries, the stage may be set for an upset in Zagreb. The match has caught the public imagination, with a sell-out crowd guaranteed. "We could have sold 100,000 tickets," said director Damir Vrbanović. And as much as he dreaded drawing the Londoners, Kuže is not afraid of taking the game to Arsène Wenger's team. "They look untouchable, but with our side we can do some damage and score a goal," he said. "We have to be very careful, but I don't want a 0-0 draw - I want us to win this match."
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