There will be no room for sentiment when FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk coach Juande Ramos faces his old team Tottenham Hotspur FC in the UEFA Europa League round of 32.
That was the overriding impression from Wednesday's pre-match media gathering as Ramos fielded questions about his tenure in England, during which he lifted the 2007/08 League Cup, before being dismissed at the start of the following season. "Only three or four players remain at Tottenham from my time. It's nice to reflect on the League Cup we won, but a lot of time has passed since. I'm focused on other tasks now," said the 59-year-old.
Since Ramos departed White Hart Lane, the Premier League side have established themselves as perennial contenders for a UEFA Champions League spot at no small cost. "Their budget is three of four times bigger than ours, " he explained. "They paid around €30m for Roberto Soldado in the summer and will have a very strong team regardless of who travels to Dnipropetrovsk."
The hosts, of course, can count on the services of erudite winger Yevhen Konoplyanka, who attracted covetous glances from a number of clubs in January. "He is in great condition now, both physically and mentally," said Ramos, whose squad have not had a competitive match since their 2-1 loss at ACF Fiorentina on 12 December. "I'm sure he'll be a massive asset for us against Tottenham."
Konoplyanka himself remains unfazed and eager to underline his credentials against Europe's elite. "The Dnipro badge is still on my chest and all I'm thinking about is the upcoming game," said the 24-year-old. "Tottenham are a very strong team and it will be very interesting to test myself against them. Any player wants to play against such opposition. We are all really motivated and desperate to succeed."
Tottenham manager Tim Sherwood admits he is a fan of the Ukraine flanker but is confident his players can keep him subdued – not that he is taking the tie lightly. Hugo Lloris, Kyle Walker, Younès Kaboul, Aaron Lennon, Mousa Dembélé and Emmanuel Adebayor are all ruled out with knocks but otherwise, the 45-year-old says, the visitors will be at full strength on Thursday.
"We have deep respect for these Europa League matches," he explained. "Both matches against Dnipro will be very hard, but if we go through it will be even harder. There are a lot of great teams in the Europa League. I think Dnipro will be fresher after the winter break. On the other hand, they have lost their rhythm and that gives us some advantage. And we have our fans – there are only 100 of them but you will hear them tomorrow."
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