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Olympique Lyonnais' record of 11 successive UEFA Champions League participations may make them favourites in their league route play-off against FC Rubin Kazan but the visitors are only too happy to play the role of underdogs.
This is the view of Rubin striker Aleksei Medvedev who pointed to the unexpected damage the Russian side did in the third qualifying round, beating FC Dynamo Kyiv 2-0 in Ukraine and then 2-1 at home to move within one step of a third straight group stage appearance.
"The chances are even," said Medvedev, a scorer in the second leg against Dynamo. "I spoke of this before we played Dynamo Kyiv as most people regarded them as favourites but it was us who progressed to the next round. Now the predictions are similar and this will only play into our hands."
Rubin, who have never met French opposition before, were boosted 48 hours before Tuesday's tie by the €4m signing of Paraguay forward Nelson Valdez from Hércules CF – their first acquisition of the summer – and he could line up against Lyon's new defender Bakary Koné. The 23-year-old from Burkina Faso made his debut in Saturday's 1-1 Ligue 1 home draw with promoted AC Ajaccio fresh from leaving EA Guingamp in a deal that could rise to €3m.
Koné's arrival helps compensate for an injured list that includes centre-backs Cris and John Mensah, along with Ederson and Yoann Gourcuff. Where Lyon may be at a disadvantage entering new coach Remi Garde's first European tie is in match fitness: Ajaccio's visit was only their second game of the campaign, while Kurban Berdyev's Rubin, who have full-back Cristian Ansaldi available once more, have played 20 Russian Premier League matches.
At the same time, AJ Auxerre overcame FC Zenit St Petersburg at this stage last term and Garde said: "[They are] a team who are in the middle of their season but I'm sure we'll be able to handle them."
It took Lisandro's late header to rescue a point for Lyon in Garde's first home outing as coach on Saturday yet they did hit the woodwork five times and their form at Stade de Gerland in Europe offers reason for optimism with only two losses in their last 18 European fixtures there.
As for Rubin, they must shake off the disappointment of conceding a 94th-minute equaliser in Saturday's home draw with Premier-Liga leaders PFC CSKA Moskva. Medvedev says that will not be a problem. "The Champions League is the Champions League, and no additional motivation will be needed," stressed the striker, one of three Rubin players – along with Salvatore Bocchetti and Gökdeniz Karadeniz – who will miss next week's return leg if booked.
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