Draws may not have favoured NK Dinamo Zagreb in recent seasons but the runaway Croatian league leaders are determined to give AFC Ajax a game in the UEFA Cup.
Last season, Dinamo lost to Arsenal FC in the UEFA Champions League third qualifying round before losing to AJ Auxerre to miss out on a place in the UEFA Cup group stage. This season Europe's top club competition proved a step too far as they lost 5-3 on aggregate to German giants Werder Bremen, and they could have been excused a gasp of horror when the UEFA Cup draw paired them with Ajax.
"Dinamo can hold their own against 75 per cent of the teams in European competition, but we always seem to get drawn against teams from the other 25 per cent," said coach Branko Ivanković as he bemoaned his side's bad luck. "Ajax are among the best teams in the world. They are favourites in this match and it will not be a disgrace if we lose against Ajax."
The odds seem stacked against Dinamo as they kick off their tie in Zagreb but having won the first eight games of their domestic season, scoring 29 goals and conceding just five, they will not lack self-belief. Indeed, captain Luka Modrić expects much of his side. "If we don't defeat Ajax it would be an unsuccessful season," he said. "If we do what the coach tells us, we can get a good result."
A suitably vociferous home crowd in the first leg at the Maksimir Stadium should stand Dinamo in good stead and, buoyed by his side's form in the league, Ivanković feels his side may have a shock in store for their Dutch visitors. He said: "We have quality, that's for sure and we are capable of springing a surprise here. If we play a good match, usually it gets us a good result."
Ivanković expected Brazilian defender Etto and midfielder Mihael Mikić to recover from injuries in time for kick-off while a clean sheet is the priority for experienced forward Davor Vugrinec. "The only thing I hope is that they don't score in Zagreb," he said. "For us, it is easier to play away from home and there will be a lot more chances in Amsterdam."
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