FK Partizan must overcome FC Bayern München to maintain their UEFA Champions League dream.
By Kadira Malkoc & Aleksandar Boskovic
Despite such pressures, Partizan captain and libero Sasa Ilic is insistent that his side will be patient against the Germans. "We are dreaming of success," he said. "They are a much better side, but everything [in football] does not always go according to expectations."
Partizan coach Ljubisa Tumbakovic is also projecting a relaxed air. "The main goal has been achieved," he said. "We have eliminated Hammarby and now we have overcome a huge psychological pressure. I think that no one in Yugoslavia expects us to pass Bayern. One victory in two legs would be equal to a miracle. Of course, we will not give in before we have actually played. There is not one minute to rest - we are training intensively."
Tumbakovic continued: "Bayern are a very strong side with internationals in almost every position. They play 'atomic' football, with a lot of experience. They are strong on the wings and in the air. For us, this is an opportunity to show how much we know though. We also have a few internationals and I can hardly wait to see the real picture of football in our two countries. I am an optimist, I can hope for a miracle. If I did not think so, I would have already resigned."
Partizan have been in excellent form of late. They dismissed Hammarby 5-1 on aggregate in the second qualifying round and warmed up for Wednesday's game with a comfortable 5-1 home victory against FK Hajduk Kula at the weekend. Bayern, champions of Europe for the fourth time in 2000/01, are certainly taking their Yugoslavian challengers seriously.
"Partizan play attractive football and they have some excellent players," said the Bavarian side's coach Ottmar Hitzfeld. "They have football in their blood and are instinctive players. There will be a hot reception for us." Bayern began the 1. Bundesliga season in disappointing fashion on Saturday with a 0-0 draw against VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach and know that they can afford no such errors on Wednesday.
"We want to go a long way in the Champions League," said midfield player Jens Jeremies. "If we lose to Partizan, then we surely do not deserve it." There is a fascinating historical context to the match. While the two sides themselves have never met in Europe, it is the German giants' third appearance in Belgrade in the last eleven years - having been eliminated by FK Crvena Zvezda in the semi-finals of the UEFA European Champion Clubs' Cup in 1991 and beaten FK Obilic in the Champions League in 1998.
The 1991 tie was a classic. The first leg was played in the Olympic stadium in Munich and the Belgrade side managed to overcome the 'German complex' that had haunted Yugoslavian sides for decades by winning 2-1 thanks to goals from Darko Pancev and Dejan Savicevic.
Bayern hope for better memories
The second leg, in front of around 80,000 spectators in Belgrade, ended in a dramatic 2-2 draw, with Bayern captain Klaus Augenthaler scoring an own goal that ensured it was Crvena Zvezda who advanced to the final 4-3 on aggregate. Bayern will hope to return to Germany with better memories of Belgrade on this occasion.