FC Sheriff coach Andrei Sosnitski is relishing the opportunity to pit his wits against FC Dynamo Kyiv trainer Valeri Gazzaev in the UEFA Europa League on Thursday having enjoyed memorable tussles with the former striker during their playing days.
Gazzaev has established himself as one of Europe's most decorated coaches after spells in the dugout with FC Alania Vladikavkaz, FC Dinamo Moskva, PFC CSKA Moskva and Russia's national team, yet Sosnitski has stronger memories of Gazzaev the player. The ex-FC Dinamo Minsk defender recalls trying to mark Gazzaev in league games against Dinamo Moskva in the former Soviet Union. "He was a unique forward," Sosnitski told UEFA.com. "It was tough playing against him."
The Belarusian anticipates an equally tricky evening when Gazzaev brings Dynamo Kyiv to Tiraspol this week. "Without doubt, Dynamo are favourites in the group," he declared. "They're a big European team who always set high targets. I'm sure their defeat by AFC Ajax [in the UEFA Champions League play-offs] will have angered them and made them doubly determined to do well in the UEFA Europa League."
While Sheriff lost 2-1 at AZ Alkmaar in their Group E opener, Dynamo were held 2-2 at home by FC BATE Borisov. Sosnitski believes his men can draw encouragement from BATE's performance as they look to become the first Moldovan club to beat Ukrainian opponents since independence. "Maybe they underestimated BATE," the 47-year-old said. "The draw in Kiev might be useful to us. We lost, but both Dynamo and BATE dropped points. The battle for qualification is still on."
Sosnitski is certainly not questioning the motivation levels of the Moldovan double winners. "Straight after Sunday's [4-0 league] victory against FC Sfintul Gheorghe Suruceni we started preparing for Dynamo. There is no doubt my players will be hugely motivated. We'll play to win. I just hope we can cope with the pressure of this game."
The importance of the occasion was emphasised by the Sheriff players, with captain Vazha Tarkhnishvili excited about facing the team he supported as a child. "Dynamo are a big name in Moldova. There are lots of Dynamo fans here," he said. "I liked watching Andriy Shevchenko. But when I get on the field, I'll forget all that. All I want is to help my team win." Defender Vladimir Branković, meanwhile, is ready for a busy night, saying: "I saw Dynamo's matches against Ajax so I know they're very strong. They could have scored three or four against Ajax, but luck was not on their side."
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