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By Paolo Menicucci
PFC CSKA Moskva must overturn the weight of history as they prepare to welcome Parma FC to the Russian capital for the second leg of their UEFA Cup semi-final.
CSKA would certainly seem to be well placed to progress having ground out a goalless draw in Italy in last week's first leg. History is against the Russian side, however. They had never reached the quarter-finals of a UEFA club competition before this season and failed to win at home in their two previous meetings with Serie A opposition - losing 2-1 against AS Roma in the 1991/92 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup and drawing 1-1 with Parma in the UEFA Cup two years ago. Should the Gialloblù repeat that result on Thursday, they will contest the final in Lisbon on 18 May.
However, CSKA's players will be well rested as they continue their bid to become the first Moscow team to capture a European trophy. They have not played a Russian Premier-Liga fixture since 17 April, slipping to eleventh place in the standings as a result, although Valeriy Gazzaev's side are just six points off the lead with two games in hand.
Parma coach Pietro Carmignani is without Fabio Vignaroli through suspension, while Marco Marchionni and Stefano Bettarini remain long-term absentees. Carmignani is expected to stick with the 3-5-2 formation he employed last week, with 17-year-old Daniele Dessena and Filippo Savi, 18, likely to feature in central midfield.
First-choice forwards Alberto Gilardino and Domenico Morfeo should start on the bench but could be introduced if required, with Francesco Ruopolo set to replace the prolific Gilardino. "I have another great opportunity to play in a very big match," the 22-year-old Ruopolo said. "I hope to finally score my first goal with Parma, it's almost an obsession for me.
"At the beginning of the season we never thought we could reach the final, but we have started to believe we can achieve something really important. CSKA will try to attack much more than they did in the first leg but we are ready to defend and hit back on the counterattack."
'No particular pressure'
Parma won their four previous European semi-finals and have lost just two of their six away games in this UEFA Cup campaign, giving Carmignani cause for confidence. "We want to reach the final," said the coach. "
We will approach this game without any particular pressure as we have done throughout our whole UEFA Cup run.
"It's been a fantastic experience for us because we have had the chance to blood several good young players. I anticipate mixing younger and older players and I will introduce a few more experienced players in the second half if the result is still in the balance. I expect a different CSKA to the one we saw in Parma, but I still think we can qualify."
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