Tampere United are aiming to become only the second Finnish side to reach the UEFA Champions League group stage, at the expense of European stalwarts Rosenborg BK.
Ari Hjelm's charges created a minor sensation by defeating Bulgarian champions PFC Levski Sofia in the second qualifying round, having overcome S.S. Murata of San Marino in the first. A record 16,000 crowd is expected at their Ratina Stadium for Wednesday's first-leg tie, with Tampere attempting to become Finland's first group stage contenders since HJK Helsinki in 1998/99.
"The match is sold out and that alone shows our players that we are doing things right," said the coach. "There is no need for extra motivation when you are playing in front of a capacity crowd." Hjelm added: "We have good scouting reports of Rosenborg and know what to expect. The players know how they will play and I'm convinced we are ready for the challenge."
Interest in the match has been intense but experienced goalkeeper Mikko Kavén insists his team are under "no unnecessary pressure", while the suspension of full-back Antti Ojanperä has not unsettled Hjelm. "That's football," he said. "Against Levski at home we had Jarkko Wiss suspended and now Ojanperä. It's not about individual players. We have to play well as a team and defend tightly."
Norwegian title-holders Rosenborg were pleased to draw Tampere following their 10-2 aggregate success against Kazakhstan's FC Astana – and coach Knut Tørum predicts that his men should have the wherewithal to make that final leap into the group stage. "We know Tampere are a physically strong side but we do also have faith in our own ability," he said.
Tampere are joint top of the Finnish Veikkausliiga after 14 games while Rosenborg sit ten points off the pace in Norway following Saturday's 3-2 defeat at SK Brann. A tendency to concede goals is worrying goalkeeper Lars Hirschfeld, who said: "We have to defend better. We have let in 26 goals in the league so far, compared with only 24 during the whole of last season."
Roar Strand will miss the trip to Tampere after picking up a thigh strain against Brann yet fellow midfielder Didier Konan Ya returns after recovering from malaria. Hirschfeld, meanwhile, is preparing for a journey into the unknown. "We don't know much about Finnish football," he said. "The only certain thing is that every opponent at this level will be hard to beat."
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