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FC Steaua Bucuresti's return to Europe's premier club competition after ten years has already got off to a shaky start and they face a tricky test in their UEFA Champions League Group E opener against an FC Dynamo Kyiv side also in contention again after a rare absence last season.
Steaua's plane was forced back to Bucharest on Tuesday when a problem with one of the windows was detected 20 minutes into the flight to Kiev. Once in the Romanian capital, the defect was fixed and the same plane departed for the Ukraine, where the Steaua squad finally arrived safely.
If the 1986 European champions' preparations have trumped them for drama, Dynamo's have hardly been ideal either. Coach Anatoli Demianenko has had to contend without a number of key players. Latvia forward Maris Verpakovskis and Ukraine midfielder Ruslan Rotan - who both sustained thigh injuries recently - have joined Artem Milevskiy and Badr El Kaddouri on the absentee list, along with the suspended Goran Sabljić.
Good start vital
Demianenko is in philosophical mood, however, telling his pre-match press conference: "We have a lot of injured players. But what can we do about that? One must win by quality, not by quantity. It is very important to make a good start tomorrow, by giving the kind of performance we are capable of." Steaua too have plenty to offer, as Demianenko knows all too well. "They are a pretty good team who deserved to be in the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup last season. But they are just another opponent for us. We will take them on and we can win. The main thing is not to play by the opponents' rules, but to play our own game."
Playing to win
Steaua might be stymied by knee injuries to captain Mirel Radoi and striker Victoras Iacob, but coach Cosmin Olaroiu is nonetheless relishing Steaua's return to the European top table. He said: "It has been ten years since our last appearance in the UEFA Champions League. It has been a long time and we and our supporters have really had to wait for this moment." He is now hoping last term's UEFA Cup experience will prove beneficial. "We learnt a lot from last year when we got to the UEFA Cup semis. I think we are ready to be competitive in the UEFA Champions League. We are here in Kiev to play the Steaua style of football: we always play to win, never to draw."
Banel Nicolita, one of the stars of Steaua's UEFA Cup exploits, sums up what this game means to the Romanian title-holders, saying: "It is the match of my career so far. We have only one player who has appeared in the UEFA Champions League before so this is a big game for all of us."
Dynamo: Olexandr Shovkovskiy; Marjan Marković, Rodrigo, Rodolfo, Andriy Nesmachniy; Oleh Gusev, Ayila Yussuf, Carlos Corrêa, Serhiy Rebrov; Diogo Rincón; Maksim Shatskikh.
Steaua: Carlos Alberto Fernandes; Stellian Stancu/Rahamin Saban, Dorin Goian, Sorin Ghionea, Mihai Nesu; Banel Nicolita, Sorin Paraschiv, Florin Lovin, Vasilica Cristocea; Cyril Thereau/Valentin Badea, Nicolae Dica.
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