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Agim Ibraimi wants the "European" NK Maribor to turn up for their UEFA Europa League Group J encounter with Tottenham Hotspur FC, a match which coach Darko Milanič is billing as one of the most important in the club's history.
While the Slovenian champions are hardly struggling in the First League – they lead by nine points after a 1-0 weekend victory against nearest challengers NK Olimpija Ljubljana – a closer inspection of their continental home record this season gives substance to the midfielder's specific request.
The Purples have won three of their four European games at the Stadion Ljudski vrt by three-goal margins (against FK Željezničar, F91 Dudelange and, in their UEFA Europa League opener, Panathinaikos FC). With this fixture affording them the chance to put distance between themselves and third-placed Tottenham, Ibraimi is urging Maribor to seize the moment.
"It is an indisputable fact that Tottenham are the favourites, but Maribor will be a difficult opponent," said the 24-year-old. "We are highly motivated and ready for this big match. We want to show the real 'European' Maribor. The fans will be our 12th man and this will be an additional motivation. We want to get as many points as possible in the Europa League and our aim is to finish first or second in the group."
Milanič, who is without Nejc Potokar and Rajko Rep due to injury, and the suspended Jovan Vidovič, is relishing the visit of André Villas-Boas's team. "This will be a very important match in the history of our club," said the coach. "We want a positive result and we expect a lot of support from the full stands.
"We have played against three British sides in the past, but Tottenham are better and different to the others. They have a lot of pace and they are extremely fast at switching to attack and vice versa."
One player integral in doing that for Tottenham, Gareth Bale, has not travelled because of family reasons, while Emmanuel Adebayor misses out with a back problem. With the Premier League outfit having opened with draws against S.S. Lazio and Panathinaikos, Villas-Boas knows how significant the Maribor double-header will be in shaping his team's campaign.
"We have two very important games with Maribor in the Europa League," he said. "After tomorrow and in two weeks' time much more will be known about this group. I don't expect an easy game – the environment and full stadium will be on their side."
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