FC Schalke coach Mirko Slomka sounded a word of caution after the German side were drawn against PFC Levski Sofia in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup today. Schalke will start the tie as favourites, but Slomka warned about taking the Bulgarian side lightly. "Sofia have not lost a home game in the UEFA Cup [this season]," he said. "They have also knocked out two clubs from the [UEFA] Champions League - [FC] Artmedia and Udinese [Calcio]. If you are still in the competition everything is possible."
Schalke, the only side still in the UEFA Cup to have started the season in the UEFA Champions League, advanced to the quarter-finals 3-1 on aggregate after an impressive 3-0 victory at home to US Città di Palermo on Wednesday night. Slomka, however, is wary of having to rely on his side's excellent home form again against Levski. "They are an opponent you have to take seriously. If you get a good result away from home, it is an advantage, but if you lose like we did [in the first leg] 1-0 away to Palermo, you are under pressure at home."
Igor Tomašić's late goal in Sofia on Thursday ensured the Bulgarian side advanced to the quarter-finals at the expense of Udinese 2-1 on aggregate. Udinese's goal was the only one Levski have conceded at home this season in six UEFA Cup matches including qualifying, and goalkeeper Georgi Petkov believes maintaining that excellent run will be crucial if his side are to progress. "We must not concede a goal in Sofia in the first leg, then we will have a chance," Petkov said. "We have already won against French and Italian sides this season, so we have a chance against a German team as well."
Schalke were UEFA Cup winners in 1997, but Levski coach Stanimir Stoilov is not overawed by their pedigree. "Schalke are a very serious side, they were quite successful in the UEFA Cup during the 90s," he said. "They have got typical German qualities, but we will keep on dreaming. Our UEFA Cup campaign has been a real fairytale so far. If we play at our best, we will have a chance."
Levski, who kicked off their UEFA Cup campaign in the second qualifying round, have enjoyed mixed success against German opposition. They have been drawn against German sides on five occasions in European competition coming out on top three times, twice against VfB Stuttgart. Their most recent meeting with German opposition came in the 1993/94 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup second round when they lost out to SV Werder Bremen 3-2 on aggregate. Schalke have met Bulgarian opposition in European competition once before, defeating PFC Slavia Sofia 5-2 on aggregate in the 1972/73 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup first round.
Schalke will travel to Sofia for the first leg on 30 March before staging the return at the Arena AufSchalke the following week. The winners will play either Sevilla FC or FC Zenit St. Petersburg in the semi-finals, the draw for which was also held on Friday.
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