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FC Lokomotiv Moskva coach Yuri Semin has revealed how his side will aim to follow the example set by the Russian national team when they take on French Ligue 1 leaders AS Monaco FC in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League knockout encounter.
Russia held Group 9 runners-up Wales to a goalless draw in the first leg of their UEFA EURO 2004™ play-off before carving out a second-leg victory in Cardiff, with a headed goal from Lokomotiv's Vadim Evseev, and Semin insists erring on the side of caution is the way forward. "Our duel against Monaco consists of two games and we cannot allow ourselves to play adventurous football in Moscow, given that Monaco really know how to play on the break," said Semin. "We have to fight for every plot of the pitch for 90 minutes remembering that there will be a second leg two weeks later."
Lokomotiv's Mikheil Ashvetia, the Georgian striker who plundered eight goals in 13 games during 2003, echoed his coach's sentiments when he said: "By far the most important thing is not to concede a goal in Moscow. At home we will be satisfied with any clean sheet victory, even if it is 1-0."
The major obstacle standing in Lokomotiv's way on Tuesday evening, besides a Monaco side that have lost only twice in their last 20 games, will be their lack of match practice. The Russian domestic season runs from March to November, meaning Lokomotiv have not played a competitive match since their 2-0 defeat in the Group B decider against Arsenal FC at Highbury on 10 December. "That's the main difference between the clubs," added Ashvetia. "For objective reasons the French are more likely to go through. They have gained good momentum, while it's not even the start of the season in Russia."
Semin is well aware of the problem and after taking his players on a pre-season tour of Belgium and Germany, which included a startling 3-3 draw against a VfB Stuttgart youth team, realises the size of the task in hand. He added: "We conceded very many goals in those games and we have not played against strong teams for the last two months. I
can only hope my players show commitment and play the sort of football we played back in November."
The absence of central defender Sergei Ignashevitch, who left Lokomotiv for city rivals PFC CSKA Moskva after becoming a free agent at the end of last term, could also be a key factor, although the squad has been boosted by recent signings Deividas Cesnauskis and James Obiorah, as well as 18-year-old youth academy graduate Diniyar Bilyaletdinov.
In addition to the suspended Jacob Lekcetho, Semin may be without playmaker Marat Izmailov and forwards Ruslan Pimenov and Maksim Buznikin, whose face late fitness tests. But captain Dmitri Loskov has recovered from recent injury problems and looks set to start, along with potential Champions League debutant Cesnauskis.
Despite doubts over the fitness of striker Ludovic Giuly, Monaco coach Didier Deschamps arrived in confident mood. "
I will not be satisfied with any other result but victory," he said. "We came here to win and Lokomotiv will have a hard night, because they have not had official playing practice for a long time."
Keeping his cards close to his chest, the Monaco coach added: "Giuly has been training for a week now, performing various exercises, but I cannot say whether or not he will play. Everything will be decided right before the game."
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