FC Viktoria Plzeň's Stadion města Plzně has become a European fortress since last season's 4-0 defeat by FC Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League group stage – the Czech league leaders' coach Pavel Vrba, though, remains wary about the visit of Fenerbahçe SK.
Plzeň's home stranglehold extends to nine games unbeaten – two draws followed by seven straight wins – with Club Atlético de Madrid and SSC Napoli, no less, among the luminaries to have been undone in Plzen. Turkish powerhouses Fenerbahçe SK come knocking on Thursday for the first leg of their UEFA Europa League round of 16 tie.
"Some of the media see us as favourites, but that is just their view," said Vrba. "We do not think we are favourites. For us it is an honour to hear that we have a chance of qualifying against such a strong opponent. Fenerbahçe are a top team with extraordinary quality. I will be happy if we perform as we did against Atlético or Napoli, as it will be a similar challenge.
"If you look at the squads of the top European teams, they all have very strong forwards. It was the case with Atlético and Napoli and it is also true of Fenerbahçe. They want to entertain their fans with attacking football and they have experience of playing regularly in Europe."
Vrba's task is made harder by the absence of the suspended David Limberský and the injured David Štípek, with captain Pavel Horváth also struggling but "more likely to start than he was yesterday". Midfielder Daniel Kolář echoed his coach's thoughts by suggesting Fenerbahçe are "slight favourites to qualify" – having been impressed by what he has seen of Aykut Kocaman's side.
"We have spent a record amount of time watching video footage," said the 27-year-old. "First we watched our last league match against Baník Ostrava, then the games of Fenerbahçe, and it seemed like somebody had switched it into fast-forward mode. However, I believe we are well prepared."
Kocaman himself needs no convincing that Plzeň will be less-than-welcoming hosts. "It will be a difficult task," said the Fenerbahçe boss. "Every coach says this before every game, but this time we know it will be even more demanding. Viktoria work well as a team and have players with excellent individual skills.
"They have played 14 games in the Europa League this season and lost only to Atlético Madrid [and KSC Lokeren OV in the play-offs]. We know it will be tough – that's obvious, looking at the qualities of both sides. But we want to take advantage of playing away first and bring home a good result, which will be a foundation for qualifying. If we come home with a goalless draw, we would probably be happy – it would be foolish not to take such a result against such strong opposition."
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