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A rash of suspensions has hit FC Sheriff hard ahead of their UEFA Champions League play-off decider against FC Basel 1893, but having ridden their luck in a 1-0 first-leg defeat, coach Andrei Sosnitski knows his side have "nothing to lose".
Defenders Vladimir Branković and Miral Samardžić are ruled out alongside midfielder Aleksandr Erokhin, but the Moldovan champions can at least call on Baco Nikolić and Fred to shore up their rearguard, following the conclusion of their match bans, while striker Jymmy França has recovered from an injury.
"Of course, these suspensions will affect our team, but we'll be playing in front of our own fans," explained Sosnitski, who served as assistant to Leonid Kuchuk with the Wasps before taking the Sheriff helm midway through last season. "We have worthy replacements for the suspended players, so we'll be fighting for victory. We have nothing to lose."
An under-strength Sheriff side drew 1-1 against FC Costuleni at the weekend, with Sosnitski feeling justified in keeping some of his top players fresh as his side bid to follow up a UEFA Europa League group stage campaign last season with a shot at Europe's top competition. In that context, the 1-0 first-leg loss to Basel stuck Sosnitski as a decent result. "I'm happy that we only conceded once," he admitted.
It would have been 2-0 had Bulgarian goalkeeper Vladislav Stoyanov not saved Benjamin Huggel's last-minute penalty, though Sheriff showed some attacking intent too. Striker Marko Djurović said: "I hit the bar in the first match. If I had scored, our task would've been much easier, but we all have to thank Stoyanov who saved us in the end. We have to play better in the second leg. We'll battle until the end, even though some of our leaders are out."
Basel coach Thorsten Fink – who may call on striker Marco Streller for the first time this season - is well aware that Sheriff are far from beaten. "We have a great deal of respect for these opponents," said the 42-year-old former FC Bayern München midfielder. "We know that this is our game of the year, at least for the time being. We have enough confidence and quality to beat Sheriff."
That confidence and quality has gone astray at home in recent weeks, with league defeats to AC Bellinzona and FC Luzern being followed by a 1-1 draw at FC Thun on Saturday. Huggel, however, insists the rot stops here. "We know, what we have to do," said the 33-year-old midfielder. "We have to defend well and must not concede, but we are always capable of scoring one ourselves."
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