As Middlesbrough FC seek to end a significant week on a high note, the return from injury of Mark Viduka could be vital to their chances of overturning a 1-0 first-leg deficit against FC Steaua Bucuresti in the UEFA Cup semi-finals.
The Australia striker has been forced to sit out the last two matches with a thigh injury sustained against West Ham United FC on 17 April, and his ability to hold the ball up has been sorely missed. Middlesbrough slipped to a narrow defeat by Steaua in Romania last Thursday before succumbing to West Ham by the same scoreline in Sunday's FA Cup semi-final. A frustrated observer in those games, Viduka is desperate to be back in action at the Riverside stadium tonight.
"I want to play in every match, no matter who we're playing," he told uefa.com. "I've never been in the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup, I got to the UEFA Champions League semis with Leeds [United AFC, in 2000/01] but it's a new experience for myself and for all of us, and it's a great thing to be part of. Playing against great teams in European competition is good for us and it's good for the club. I'm playing as well as at any time in my career and I'm enjoying myself. There's been a big turnaround at this club, but that's what football's like; a couple of months ago we were coming in for some pretty strong criticism and it's all turned round. I think it's down to mental strength, a bit of luck, a bit of determination and a bit of never-say-die attitude."
The 30-year-old has scored seven goals in his last eleven outings - including two in the remarkable fightback against FC Basel 1893 in the quarter-final second leg - and he is hoping for a repeat of that memorable occasion when Steaua come to town. "Basel was a great night and it was amazing to be part of it," he said. "Although we went three goals down on aggregate, we still believed we could do it, and that was the deciding factor. We showed great determination and had nothing to lose, we had to go out and attack and score goals and we knew there was no reason why we couldn't do that. It was a massive night for us, up there with the best of my career."
Nicolae Dica's fine strike last week gives Steaua the edge in tonight's tie, and Viduka recognises that recovering another deficit will not be easy. "Romanian players are always technically gifted, and Steaua are no exception," he said. "Before the first leg, I thought it was hard to say who were favourites. We knew it would be a difficult game in Romania and it's up to us to make it hard for them when they come here. We've already won one game no one thought we could win, and that's great for our confidence. As for me, I'm enjoying my football at the moment, I want to play as much as I can as I know I'm in great form right now."
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