French Under-21 international Issiar Dia insists he and his AS Nancy-Lorraine team-mates do not fear any of their UEFA Cup opponents ahead of tonight's group-stage opener against Wisła Kraków.
Pooled with Feyenoord, FC Basel 1893, Blackburn Rovers FC and the Polish side, Nancy are the relative minnows of Group E having played just six European ties in their history. But after eliminating one of the tournament favourites, FC Schalke 04, in the first round, the Ligue 1 club are brimming with confidence. "It's a tough draw but this is Europe and we didn't expect anything else," Dia told uefa.com. "We all want to test ourselves against the best teams and we're certainly not afraid."
Dia's bold attitude is understandable given Nancy's recent achievements. Promoted to Ligue 1 in 2005, they lifted the French League Cup last term and are now firmly established in the top flight where they currently sit third. Key to their success has been the canny transfer dealings of coach Pablo Correa, whose ability to spot a bargain was epitomised by the €2m capture of Dia from second division Amiens SC in the summer.
A diminutive, pacy winger, the 19-year-old has made an instant impact at Stade Marcel Picot. Relishing the opportunity to test himself against France's best defences, Dia said: "I'm lucky because I've joined a club that's on the up and there's a really positive atmosphere. It's great experience for me to be playing regularly in Ligue 1 at my age."
Employed primarily on the right by Correa, Dia's flexibility and direct running have drawn comparisons with Franck Ribéry, but the teenager is reluctant to discuss similarities with the France forward, saying: "It's not for me to comment on my qualities. I can play on either flank or through the middle but for now I'm just happy to be playing. Everything has gone well in the last few months but I know how quickly fortunes can change so I'm going to keep my head down and carry on working hard."
Schalke discovered how destructive Dia can be when they travelled to Lorraine in September. Trailing 1-0 from the first leg in Germany, Nancy won 3-1 at home with Dia playing important roles in the first two goals before scoring the third. "The Schalke game was the biggest of my career in terms of the importance of the occasion," said the Paris-born prospect. "Obviously, scoring my first goal made the night even more special but the biggest thing was that Nancy went through."
Dia made his France Under-21 debut days later, and now hopes his fairy-tale season will continue with more dramatic nights in the UEFA Cup. "We're all excited about the European ties and hopefully we can keep the adventure going," he said. "It's not going to be easy but we're all confident and we're determined to try to build on the victory against Schalke."
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