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Proud to have helped put MŠK Žilina "on the football map", captain Róbert Jež will savour every moment as the Slovakian titleholders embark upon their maiden UEFA Champions League group stage campaign – starting with Wednesday's opener against Chelsea FC.
Žilina booked their place in Group F by downing Czech side AC Sparta Praha 3-0 on aggregate in the play-offs, and that result has already had a big impact. "Qualifying meant a lot, not only for the club but also for the town," said Jež. "This success put us on the football map."
"It's extraordinary," added the 29-year-old midfielder. "Of course, everyone knows Žilina are a small club.
The progress we've made in the Champions League is a great success for us. I'm very proud of my players: this will go down in the club's history."
Jež and his team-mates could not have asked for higher profile first opponents either, with Chelsea hoping to bring the newcomers back down to earth at the Štadión MŠK Žilina. The home side's skipper is an especially big fan of Blues midfielder Frank Lampard, but he acknowledged that "every Chelsea player is a great player".
He also explained that, if anything, he is even more excited about facing Carlo Ancelotti's men at Stamford Bridge on Matchday 5. "To play in England will be a massive experience," he said. "All of us are really looking forward to playing at Chelsea."
As for coach Pavel Hapal, he is relishing the prospect of pitting his wits against Ancelotti. "He's a great coach and coaches one of the best teams in the world," said Hapal. "It's a great challenge for me and I'm really looking forward to it. On the other hand, we won't sell ourselves short. We want to show our supporters quality football and we'd like to get some points from our meeting with Chelsea."
That will take "bravery and cheekiness" according to the Czech tactician. "Those aspects were our strong points last season. We obviously respect our opponents; they're a really big club.
Chelsea are obviously superior to us, but football is about 11 players playing against 11 players and we want to walk off with our heads high after the match."
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