Serbia's three UEFA Europa League hopefuls face vastly different tasks this week with OFK Beograd buoyed by a 2-2 first-leg draw in Istanbul as they prepare to welcome Galatasaray AŞ.
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The three Serbian clubs in UEFA Europa League action this week find different obstacles blocking their path to the play-off round, with OFK Beograd and FK Spartak Zlatibor Voda buoyed by last week's impressive results but FK Crvena Zvezda still having much work to do.
OFK earned a 2-2 draw at Galatasaray AŞ in the first leg of their third qualifying round tie – Dejan Djurdjević's side fighting back from 2-0 down with ten minutes left, a recovery the OFK coach believes epitomises their never-say-die attitude. "We have no fear," Djurdjević said. "Of course we respect all our opponents, especially a strong club like Galatasaray, but firstly I ask my players to concentrate on their abilities and to have confidence in themselves. We're young and we can only have a good season if we stick to our system and keep a good spirit in the dressing room."
Djurdjević has built a team of hard workers, belying the club's nickname of The Romantics, although the coach is dreaming of a memorable success on Thursday. "The first-leg result is fantastic for us. At the moment we are one step closer to a place in the play-off round, but anything can go wrong.
We've got a great base for the second leg, which will be a real battle. But I believe our supporters will enjoy themselves in Belgrade. So far we've done something great for Serbian football and I'm happy with that when I look at my talented players."
Spartak Zlatibor, like OFK, have given themselves a reasonable chance of progress. They travel to FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk defending a 2-1 lead, another unexpected scoreline given that their home leg was played in Novi Sad, 140km from their home town of Subotica. Coach Dragan Miranović, who has opted to put his faith in younger players, said: "Dnipro are a well-organised team who did many good things during the game, but the result was amazing.
It was one of the greatest victories in our history. We showed character, desire and responsibility, and of course we had some luck too. The second leg will be a new and big test for us, not least to see how we play under pressure."
It is a different story for Crvena Zvezda, beaten 2-1 at home by FC Slovan Bratislava despite the presence of summer signings Duško Tošić, Ognjen Koroman and Dejan Milovanović – all Serbian internationals – in their starting lineup. "That was our first game of the season and we were not at a level we can be satisfied with," said coach Ratko Dostanić, who recognises that rapid improvement is required. "We wanted to play short passes and use the wings, but instead we mostly hit long balls towards our forwards and that made our opponents' job easier. Now we have only one option – to work hard and believe in a better second leg in Slovakia. It's too easy to say that, so we'll see if we get better or not."