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FK Ventspils are hoping to catch Swiss titleholders FC Zürich by surprise when the two clubs meet in Latvia to contest the first leg of their UEFA Champions League play-off, with a group-stage berth on the line.
Nunzio Zavettieri, Ventspils coach
From technical point of view, it'll be a very tough match. We've got serious opponents with much more international experience than us. On the other hand, we can be calm because as underdogs we have nothing to lose. I really hope we can surprise our opponents. I don't think the Swiss champions know Ventspils and our capabilities. We're a kind of puzzle for them, and this might help. These matches against Zürich are historical for Ventspils because a Latvian club has never been so close to the UEFA Champions League group stage before. We'll play as a composed team contesting the biggest match in its history.
Bernard Challandes, Zürich coach:
There's been no special preparation for this game because we don't have that much information on Ventspils. I watched their league game against Tranzīts that ended 7-0 and their next match against Jūrmala also ended with a big victory [4-0]. They have beaten BATE Borisov, who played in the UEFA Champions League last term, and that proves this team is strong. Our game in the last round against NK Maribor was a valuable lesson. We started brightly but lost focus and almost lost it so we will try to make sure we don't repeat that mistake. Everybody understands we're one step away from the group stage, so there will be no problems with motivation.
• The Latvian titleholders replaced coach Roman Grigorchuk with Italian Nunzio Zavettieri just eight days before the first leg of their play-off with Zürich. They also completed a quartet of signings last week, with Argentinian midfielder Rubén Botta and defender Iván Nadal, Belarussian goalkeeper Pavel Chesnovski and Latvian striker Edgars Gauracs joining the club two days after Zavettieri's arrival. Grigorchuk had led Ventspils to a hat-trick of titles.
• Losers in the second qualifying round in 2007/08 and 2008/09, the Latvian champions have never been closer to gaining a place in the UEFA Champions League proper yet they will face a tough assignment against a visiting Zürich side eager to return to Europe's élite club competition after an absence of 28 years.
• Though Zürich have never met Latvian opposition before, Ventspils have enjoyed success against a Swiss team, emerging 3-1 aggregate winners against FC Lugano in a 2002/03 UEFA Cup qualifying tie.
• Zürich were semi-finalists in the European Champion Clubs' Cup in 1963/64 and 1976/77 but their last appearance in the competition came in 1981/82 – long before the UEFA Champions League era opened.The Swiss club fell in the qualifying rounds in 2006/07 and 2007/08.
How they reached the play-offs
• Zürich should travel to Latvia in good heart after the 3-0 win at NK Maribor that took them into the play-off round. The Swiss champions had lost their first-leg meeting with Maribor 3-2 on home soil but bounced back with three unanswered goals in Slovenia, courtesy of Dušan Djurić, Xavier Margairaz and Adrian Nikci.
• Ventspils reached the play-off round after ousting Belarussian champions FC BATE Borisov – group-stage participants last season – on away goals following a 2-2 aggregate draw. The Latvian side have won both their home games in this season's competition – beating BATE 1-0 and before that Luxembourg's F91 Dudelange 3-0 en route to a 6-1 aggregate triumph in the second qualifying round.
Out: Edgars Gauracs (groin)
Suspended: Grigori Chirkin
Misses next match if booked: Deniss Kačanovs, Jevgenijs Kosmačovs, Vits Rimkus, Ritvars Rugins, Saša Tsilinsek
Out: Yassine Chikhaoui (knee), Heinz Barmettler (knee), Daniel Stucki (ankle), Martin Büchel (foot)
Suspended: Milan Gajić
Misses next match if booked: Silvan Aegerter
Previous competitive results
15/08/09 FK Jūrmala 0-4 Ventspils (Latvian Virsliga)
(Ndeki 15, Špakovs 38, Žigajevs 86, Rimkus 90)
15/08/09 FC Sion 3-3 Zürich (Swiss Super League)
(Marin 8, Obradović 42, Domínguez 55pen; Margairaz 39, Tihinen 70, Vonlanthen 88pen)
Did you know?
Ventspils players Vitālijs Astafjevs, Deniss Kačanovs, Aleksejs Višņakovs and Igors Savčenkovs featured in the Latvia side beaten 2-1 by Switzerland in St Gallen in a FIFA World Cup qualifying tie last October. Andrejs Butriks was an unused substitute.
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