Many people would have predicted that when KKS Lech Poznań hosted Juventus on UEFA Europa League Matchday 5, the game would involve the Group A leaders. That Lech are the team on top is more of a surprise.
The Polish champions lead Manchester City FC on goals scored and are three points ahead of their third-placed opponents, who may need to win in Poznan to keep their hopes alive having drawn 3-3 with Lech at the start of the group stage. That result means a lower-scoring draw than the one on 16 September would take Lech through regardless of their concluding trip to FC Salzburg.
However, captain Bartosz Bosacki knows that is no easy task. "We are close to reaching the knockout stage but on the pitch we cannot think about the next round because we have to fully focus on Juventus," the 34-year-old defender said.
Lech fans are set to brave predicted -12C temperatures, but it is not just the club's regular supporters that will be behind them. "
We will receive support not only from fans in Poznan but from all of Poland," Bosacki added. "We have to be prepared for extreme conditions on the evening of the match but I don't think that snow and frost will give us any advantage. The Juventus players have already played in very low temperatures."
José Maria Bakero, who took over as Lech coach on the eve of their 3-1 defeat of City on 4 November, is familiar with the Bianconeri from his playing days having been in the FC Barcelona side that lost 1-0 in Turin in the 1991 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup semi-finals but went through 3-2 on aggregate. He hopes to have Artjoms Rudņevs, who scored a hat-trick against the Serie A club on Matchday 1, fit despite the striker suffering a knock in Saturday's 0-0 draw at Korona Kielce.
"Juventus are a team you have to approach with special attention, a big club with huge tradition and great supporters," Bakero said. "I am really happy to have the chance to play Juventus. Matches like this one will always last in players' memories."
Luigi Delneri, whose Juventus team have drawn all four group games and could be out if they make it five, will start with Vincenzo Iaquinta and Alessandro Del Piero up front. "I do not differentiate between the UEFA Europa League and Serie A," said the coach. "Both of them have huge importance for us.
At the beginning of the season we had some bad luck and this has led to the current situation in the Europa League. At this point we are focusing only on reaching the knockout phase."
Delneri also took the opportunity to remember former Juventus defender Gaetano Scirea, who won all the major UEFA club competitions with the club as well as the 1982 FIFA World Cup for Italy, but died aged 36 in a car accident in Poland 21 years ago. "If we beat Lech we would like to dedicate this win to him," Del Neri said. "Juventus are playing in Poland for the first time since his death. He was a great player and a big personality."
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