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By Stanislav Hlaváček & Aleksandr Keplin
Slovakian side FC Artmedia Bratislava expect a sapping challenge at Kazakhstani title-holders FC Kairat Almaty as both teams make their UEFA Champions League debut in the first leg of their first qualifying round tie today.
Vladimír Weiss's team claimed their first Slovakian Superleague title last season, holding off the challenge of perennial winners MŠK Žilina. But the prize could prove to be something of a poisoned chalice after they were drawn with Kairat.
The Kazakh champions are based near the border with China, and after completing a 11,000km journey, the Artmedia players may experience temperatures approaching 40C. The searing heat is set to play its part and although the game will kick off in the evening, temperatures are still likely to be extremely high.
The home side have recorded some mixed results of late, winning one, drawing one and losing the other of their last three league games to leave Kairat in seventh position, although FC Taraz and FC Ordabasy Shymkent were both overcome in the Kazakh Cup. Kairat coach Aleksei Petrushin will be keen to help his team better their last European outing, when they suffered a 5-0 aggregate defeat by FK Crvena Zvezda in the 2002/03 UEFA Cup.
However, Kairat will be without the talismanic Andrei Karpovich and his usual replacement in the holding role, Kairat Nurdauletov, as they are both injured. Creative midfield player Evgeni Lovchev is likely to fill in, although Almaty's problems also extend to their frontline as Alikbek Buleshev and Arsen Tlekhugov are unfit.
Weiss also has problems, however, with two foreign forwards, Brazilian Luís Fabio Gomes and Serbo-Montenegrin Milorad Bukviè, both unavailable after visa difficulties. Their loss is a blow to the side but Weiss' spirit has been lifted by a 3-1 win against FK Dukla Banská Bystrica in the Slovakian Super Cup on Sunday.
"We're delighted to claim the Super Cup," he said of their first victory in that competition. "It's given us a lot of confidence. It's a pity our first-choice attack is unavailable though, and we'll now have to face a strong side with only 16 players. But we remain hopeful."
In a good omen for Artmedia, in the 2002/03 UEFA Cup Slovakian side FK Púchov claimed an aggregate win against Kazakh club FC Atyrau after a 0-0 away draw. A similar result would earn the victors a second qualifying round tie against former European champions Celtic FC in the more temperate climate of Scotland.
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