|Attempts on target||30||24|
|Attempts off target||28||30|
Udinese Calcio coach Serse Cosmi could barely contain his excitement ahead of his side's first-ever UEFA Champions League match at home to Panathinaikos FC on Wednesday evening.
"It's a very emotional time," he said. "I feel very proud. Just coming to the stadium and watching everything being set up, you get the feeling we are experiencing something extraordinary. We feel we've come very far and now we want to do well for everyone associated with the club." Cosmi's enthusiasm is understandable. Three months ago, the amiable Italian was coaching Genoa 1893 in Serie B and now he is preparing to test himself against the leading lights of European football.
"I remember when I was a boy watching [FC] Internazionale [Milano] and AC Milan and the contribution they made - a winning contribution – and I dreamt of being a player. Then, as time goes by, you moderate your expectations and hope to make it as a manager. I've worked my way up from the bottom and I hope other lower-league managers will see that we can make it to the highest level." But if Cosmi appears happy with his lot, he also pointed out that his players are not just there to make up the numbers.
Udinese may not be Italy's most fashionable team, but they currently top Serie A following 1-0 wins against Empoli FC and AS Roma. "I have faith in my players and despite the occasion they are still very calm," Cosmi continued. "After Sunday's victory at Roma they were happy with the result but they weren't jumping around going mad. They took it all in their stride and that's a sign of growing maturity in this side."
One of the players with his feet firmly on the ground is Vincenzo Iaquinta, the striker who has managed to force his way into the Italy team and is now looking to make his mark in Europe. "I know I haven't scored in Serie A yet but I'm sure the goals will come," he said. "I've always been a slow starter but I'm happy with my game. I scored a penalty in the qualifying round [against Sporting Clube de Portugal] and I'll settle for that tomorrow if we win."
Cosmi remains guarded about his formation to face the Greeks after utilising three forwards at the weekend with Antonio Di Natale and Davide Di Michele supporting a more central Iaquinta. Di Michele could make way for the more defence-minded Vidigal or Stefano Mauri, although midfielder Giampiero Pinzi and defender Valerio Bertotto are both likely to miss out through injury and illness respectively.
Udinese's problems pale into insignificance compared with those of Panathinaikos, however. Emmanuel Olisadebe and Flavio Conceição are suspended, while Dimitrios Papoudopoulos and Srdjan Adrić are sidelined. The absentees are a further blow to coach Alberto Malesani, whose side are languishing near the bottom of the Alpha Ethniki following a home defeat by title-holders Olympiacos CFP and a draw at Ionikos FC on Saturday. The Italian may now field a defensive-looking lineup at the Friuli stadium with Sándor Torghelle operating as a lone striker.
Malesani makes his point
Indeed, Malesani hinted that a draw would be far from disastrous. "We must be very calm. The group stage is like a mini championship so if things don't go to plan in the first match there is still time to put them right. A point means you still have a very good chance of qualifying."
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