UEFA Champions League debutants FK Sutjeska will need to play beyond their limits if they are to upset experienced Moldovan champions FC Sheriff in second qualifying round, according to coach Dragan Radojičić.
Last season, Sutjeska defied the odds to finish above FK Budućnost Podgorica and win their first Montenegrin title, and the coach – who began his playing career with the club 25 years ago – wants the team to retain that spirit for their first UEFA Champions League adventure.
"We are very proud to represent Montenegrin football on the biggest platform," said the 43-year-old. "Now, our duty is to give our best and at least make ourselves tough to beat. We are realistic about our chances, but we will not give up without a fight."
A brief two-tie spell in the 2003 UEFA Intertoto Cup aside, the club's only European experience came four years ago, and ended in elimination by Belarusian outfit FC MTZ-RIPO Minsk in UEFA Europe League qualifying. Radojičić is aware that this lack of know-how hinders the Niksic-based side, who – along with Budućnost – were one of only two Montenegrin sides to feature in the top division in the former Yugoslavia.
"It's hard to find club like us, who have just one player who has played at this level," he said. "The only one in our squad with international experience is Dejan Ognjanović – everyone else is a UEFA debutant."
Ognjanović, now 35, played for FK Partizan in the UEFA Champions League ten years ago and is relishing the opportunity to return to the competition in the twilight of his career. "It's nice to be back in action on the biggest stage, to once again feel the glamour of biggest club competition in the world," said the defender. "Playing for Partizan against Real Madrid, Porto and Marseille was the pinnacle of my career and now, when I am close to the end, I will give my best to help Sutjeska achieve something special and stay in Europe as long as possible."
UEFA competition regulars and two-time UEFA Europa League group stage contenders, Sheriff represent formidable opponents for Sutjeska, having contested 48 UEFA Champions League matches. "We will play a very experienced side, but if we play with heart and discipline, we could surprise them," said Ognjanović, whose sentiments are echoed by his coach.
"I saw that they have strengthened, adding several new players," said Radojičić. "So, on paper, they are better than last season, while we are at the same level. But, last season we often played beyond our limits and that's why we won the title. We are capable of giving more than 100% and if we do that in both games, we will have a hope.
"I have prepared them to play as they did last season – to be focused and aggressive, and not to think about result," added the coach. "I will tell them to be at their top level, and the result will show how strong we are. If we play to our best, I will be satisfied. I hope that we can get decent result in the first leg and then try to complete a surprise in front of our fans."