FC Kuban Krasnodar defender Artem Fidler promised the Russian side will "put up a fight" when they face two-time competition winners Feyenoord in the UEFA Europa League play-offs, while ACF Fiorentina coach Vincenzo Montella said opponents Grasshopper Club Zürich are "one of the strongest teams we could have faced".
It is Kuban's first campaign in Europe and, after defeating Scotland's Motherwell FC, they have a stern task in the shape of the Dutch heavyweights. "Feyenoord are a strong team with great traditions, but so are we," said Fidler. "I think it will be a very interesting tie. Of course, the Dutch team are favourites but we have a chance as well. We have a good squad with quality players. We will put up a fight and I hope we get the result." Team-mate David Tsoraev believes the tie could go either way. "The odds of progressing to the group stage are 50-50. It is going to be a tough tie. We will fight and so will they," said the midfielder.
Ronald Koeman, in charge of the Rotterdam club, will be doing his homework, commenting that "we will certainly watch their next match", while Feyenoord captain Stefan de Vrij will not be underestimating the Russian debutants. "They beat Motherwell without conceding and finished fifth in Russia last season. That says something about their quality and they should not be underestimated."
Meanwhile, Viola coach Montella reckons his charges have been handed a difficult assignment against Grasshoppers. "They are coming from the Champions League qualifying rounds so will arrive better prepared than us. They are clearly one of the strongest teams we could have faced." Michael Skibbe, coach of the Zurich outfit, was delighted however. "Brilliant! Fiorentina are a top Italian side with a number of talented individuals, most notably Mario Gomez. It is a great challenge."
Udinese Calcio general manager Franco Collavino voiced similar sentiments to Montella's after his troops were pitted against FC Slovan Liberec. "This is the strongest opponent we could have got," he said. "They were the team with the best credentials. If we approach the game like we did the previous round, if we are focused, then we can go through."
HNK Rijeka coach Matjaž Kek, meanwhile, reacted positively to the Croatian side drawing Germany's VfB Stuttgart, who made it to the round of 16 last term. "This is a reward for all our players and fans,' he said. "It is a huge thing to be involved in such a big game. It is obvious who the favourites are, but you all know that favourites are not always winners and we will do everything we can to cause an upset." The draw was an evocative one for Stuttgart's sporting director Fredi Bobic who spent his final season as a player with Rijeka. "I had a good time there. Of course it is a special game for me, but it won't be easy."
"Dynamo Kyiv have to play in the group stage – all our squad feel the same and I have nothing to add," said forward Andriy Yarmolenko after his team were detailed to play Kazakhstan's FC Aktobe, while SC Braga will take nothing for granted against CS Pandurii Lignitul Târgu Jiu of Romania. "They are debutants but deserve our full respect. We are entering this play-off with the goal of reaching the group stage and want to go as far as possible," said Braga director Pedro Pereira.
Eintracht Frankfurt lifted the trophy in 1980 and return to the competition for the first time since 2006/07 – with a trip into uncharted territory and Qarabağ FK. "Azerbaijan is new for me," said coach Armin Veh. "I have never been there, but it is very positive that the first leg is away." Eintracht chairman Heribert Bruchhagen added: "I am satisfied with the draw. We have a good chance of going through."
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