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By Tom Kington in Rome
AS Roma return to the UEFA Champions League with a new coach, Rudi Völler, a new-look team, and a tough test to begin with against the experienced European campaigners of FC Dynamo Kyiv.
Roma are confident after starting the domestic season with victory on Sunday against ACF Fiorentina. But Völler is still getting to know his players after replacing Cesare Prandelli just over two weeks ago, and the German admitted Dynamo would not be an easy ride on his European debut as coach of Roma. "This will be a difficult game, Dynamo are well into their season and we are just getting going," said Völler, a favourite of the tifosi at the Stadio Olimpico as a player from 1987-92.
Dynamo already have four wins from six games in the Ukrainian Premier League, but have suffered managerial upheaval of their own. The 2-1 home defeat by Trabzonspor in the Champions League third qualifying round last month cost Oleksiy Mykhaylychenko his job, but since then, under new coach Jozsef Szabo, they have been playing like a team transformed.
Improved form has taken Dynamo to second in the league, while a 2-0 second-leg win over Trabzonspor ensured qualification for the group stage of the Champions League. That victory in Istanbul caught Völler's attention.
"As that win showed, the team has great character, class and a group of quality foreign players," the former Germany coach said. "Latvian Maris Verpakovskis proved himself to be very fast and very dangerous in front of goal when he played for Latvia against my German team."
Germany were fortunate to draw that match in Portugal as Latvia came close to pulling off an upset, and Szabo was confident his side too could spring a surprise when he arrived in Rome. "The international players in the squad all did well on international duty recently and the team is in good condition," Szabo said, before tempering his optimism with a note of caution. "Roma boast players capable of controlling the pace of the game, and we could have problems there."
Work in progress
Dynamo's last three visits to Italy have all ended in defeat, and Szabo will have to try to reverse that trend without injured midfield player Valentin Belkevich. But Völler's side is still very much a work in progress and the Ukrainian coach will hope to take advantage.
Völler has jetisoned the 4-2-3-1 formation favoured by his predecessor in preference for the 4-4-2 lineup which brought success against Fiorentina. With Ahmed Hossam 'Mido' injured, Francesco Totti and Antonio Cassano are likely to start together again, though Vincenzo Montella made his case for a place by scoring the only goal of the game on Sunday.
Alessandro Mancini, Daniele De Rossi, Olivier Dacourt and new signing Simone Perrotta should make up the midfield. "With national players like De Rossi and Perrotta in midfield, we can play different formations," said Dacourt of his new-look side.
New recruits Matteo Ferrari and Philippe Mexes are forging a partnership at the back and the latter in particular impressed against Fiorentina. They will have to be at their best against Dynamo's Verpakovskis and Maxim Shatskikh, but Roma will not lack motivation given Völler's pedigree.
The 1990 World Cup winner lifted the European Champion Clubs' Cup with Olympique de Marseille in 1993 and is ready for more of the same. "I won this trophy eleven years ago with Marseille. It's an exceptional experience to hold it in your hands," he said.
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