When Neftçi PFK were drawn against FK Partizan in the UEFA Europa League play-offs, there was a special sense of anticipation for the Azerbaijani side's goalkeeper, Saša Stamenković.
The 29-year-old spent three years at Partizan's local rivals FK Crvena zvezda from 2008 to 2011, before moving to Baku. He has since helped Neftçi to two league titles and a domestic cup. Stamenković was breached three times, though, in last week's first leg in Belgrade – including two own goals – as Neftçi surrendered a 2-0 lead to lose 3-2.
"Even before the tie I said Partizan were favourites," he told UEFA.com. "We started the match in Belgrade very well. We were two goals up and needed to increase this advantage but unfortunately could not do it. We lost eventually, albeit with a scoreline that leaves us with hope of qualifying for the group stage. To lose away from home by a narrow margin, having scored two goals, is a pretty decent result."
The Serbian side mustered just three shots on target in the opening instalment and Stamenković conceded that he had "expected more" from the hosts. Neftçi coach Boyukagha Hajiyev, meanwhile, admitted he was not satisfied with Stamenković's display against his compatriots, providing added incentive to perform back in Azerbaijan.
"Just like us players, the fans have to believe and hope for the best," said the keeper. "We have loads of motivation and desire. A 1-0 or 2-1 win will be more than enough for us. Our main goal is to qualify for the group stage of the second biggest club competition in Europe."
Hajiyev was without a handful of first-team regulars last week and has promised a "different Neftçi" at the Tofig Bahramov Republican Stadium; for Stamenković, one thing is for certain. "Neftçi never play defensively, it is a fact," he added. "
We are going to have our revenge, with the powerful support of our fans in the stands."