After a fairy-tale ending to their UEFA Europa League first qualifying round tie, Estonia's JK Sillamäe Kalev are aiming for more of the same against European debutants FC Krasnodar on Thursday – but club president Aleksandr Starodubtsev knows they face the toughest of tests to keep their group-stage dream alive.
A 90th-minute FC Honka Espoo goal took their tie into extra time last week and when the Finnish hosts scored again with 15 minutes left, the Sillamäe dream looked dead. However, Evgeni Kabaev struck in the 120th minute to bring the aggregate scores to 4-4 and earn the Estonian side a second qualifying round bout with the Russian heavyweights on away goals.
"Do we have a chance? Just think what kind of players Krasnodar have and see the difference," said Starodubtsev, who nevertheless expects his team to give their all. "We will certainly fight, we will do our best to defend the reputation of Estonian football, but our clubs are just in a different weight category. Totally different, in all senses. Still, we will ask our players to show we are a team, that we are true men."
The club will be determined to give a better impression than during their only previous European campaign, which culminated in a 10-1 aggregate defeat by FC Dinamo Minsk in 2010/11 qualifying – and the president accepts all eyes will be on them. "I am delighted people are showing an intense interest in the match. I have had so many calls. It is a great thrill that football in our Ida-Virumaa region is in the limelight. We are making history. We have beaten Honka this time but, who knows, if we get richer we can beat some more teams next year."
Sillamäe sit fifth after 19 games of the Estonian First League season and go into the Krasnodar game under new Russian coach Sergey Frantsev, who has experience of Thursday's opponents after spending time on the coaching staff at FC Rubin Kazan, FC Lokomotiv Moskva and FC Rostov. "We have known him for a long time, we have been talking regularly, and it finally came time to appoint him as coach," said Starodubtsev. "He is a great tactician, he knows how to deal with people."
However, if the 55-year-old Frantsev fails keep the dream alive this term, Starodubtsev is hopeful Sillamäe will be back for a crack at the big boys next summer. "I have already told the guys that the UEFA Europa League may end for us, but the domestic league will go on and the goal of getting into the top three is still within reach."
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