When Dutch champions FC Twente visit FC Rubin Kazan on Thursday, they could be forgiven for not expecting open, exciting football. Kurban Berdyev's side made their name in Europe by beating FC Barcelona 2-1 at Camp Nou in last season's UEFA Champions League group stage, but their home results tell their own story.
Rubin have not lost on home soil in Europe since making their debut in the 2009/10 UEFA Champions League, winning two and drawing six, with just three goals conceded in the process. The club's Ecuadorian midfielder, Christian Noboa, explained: "We all know how to defend tactically, even the strikers. When we get the ball, we open up and attack, but when we don't score, at least we get one point."
That might not be a recipe for sexy football, but Aleksandr Ryazantsev is not concerned about that in a game where substance counts for more than style. "This is what is expected of us," said the 24-year-old midfielder. "Our coach sets the tasks for us and the whole team plays accordingly. What I would or wouldn't like is irrelevant."
Dour perhaps, but effective. Rubin won their first Russian titles in 2008 and 2009 and over the last two seasons, FC Internazionale Milano and FC Barcelona (twice) have both left the Centralnyi Stadium with just a point to show for their efforts. Although, because of the freezing weather, the tie against Twente will be played on the artificial turf of the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Rubin will hope to uphold their reputation as mean hosts. "The guys are so eager," said goalkeeper Sergei Ryzhikov. "So it will be interesting, and we will show what we are made of."
Twelve months ago at this stage of the UEFA Europa League, Rubin beat Hapoel Tel-Aviv FC 3-0 in Kazan and finished the tie off with a 0-0 draw in Israel, but then succumbed to VfL Wolfsburg in the next round. Ryzhikov has been keeping tabs on their opponents in the round of 32, Twente. "A couple of their games were shown on Russian TV," the 30-year-old said of the Dutch titleholders, who were also involved in the UEFA Champions League group stage. "It will be interesting for them to play in our cold weather, and for us to play in the Netherlands."
Should Rubin get past Twente, they could be in line for a last-16 meeting with FC Zenit St Petersburg. An all-Russian tie would be good for business, but Noboa said: "
Our motivation comes from playing in the Europa League; the whole world sees you and all of Europe notices how you play. The motivation is always high, whoever we play."
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