FC Steaua Bucureşti must overcome an injury crisis as well as opponents FC BATE Borisov if they are to reach the UEFA Champions League group stage on Wednesday.
Captain Mirel Radoi damaged cartilage in his left knee in training on Monday and has been sidelined for weeks, days after summer signing Mihaita Plesan suffered a fractured fibula in the Romanian league draw at CFR Ecomax Cluj-Napoca – keeping him out until January. Sorin Ghionea, Valentin Badea, Victoras Iacob and Ifeanyi Emeghara have also just resumed training after injuries and are unlikely to feature for coach Gheorghe Hagi, who has Paweł Golański suspended too.
Nonetheless, Steaua president George Becali expects his side to deliver in front of a sell-out crowd in Bucharest. "If we play as we know how, simply and efficiently, we should win 4-0," said Becali, who has promised every player €100,000 should Steaua make the group stage. Hagi is less outspoken. Before the first leg in Belarus, he had warned against underestimating BATE and his caution proved well-founded: a 2-2 draw ensued. The coach remains confident of progress, however. "We shouldn't miss out on qualification," he said. "We have to stay focused and concentrate so we are not surprised by skilful opponents."
BATE have already made history by becoming the first Belarussian club to compete in the third qualifying round. As they prepare for their sixth match of this European campaign, they have no intention of resting on laurels. "With a score draw away from home, the momentum has swung in Steaua's favour so they have more choice in terms of their game plan. But we aren't being negative about our situation," BATE coach Igor Kryushenko said. "We need to score and we'll be looking to do that. I think it's still pretty much 50-50. The game in Romania will start from scratch."
'Don't switch off'
Kryushenko, though, has selection problems. Key striker Vitali Radzionov and full-back Anri Khagush are suspended, with the coach considering switching from 4-4-2 to 4-2-3-1 in the absence of the former. Steaua showed how dangerous they are from set-pieces two weeks ago, and Kryushenko is calling for vigilance. "I can't add anything to what I told them before the first leg," he said. "I think it's better to show them the tapes to see what we did well and what we didn't do. The only thing I will be asking them is to keep focused and not to get caught off guard for a second."
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