Surprised at how well his side handled FC Zenit St. Petersburg last week, Jean Fernandez believes AJ Auxerre can bring the Russian league leaders to heel at the Stade Abbé-Deschamps.
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Trailing to Aleksandr Kerzhakov's goal three minutes into the first leg of their play-off tie, AJ Auxerre are still confident of beating FC Zenit St. Petersburg to a place in the UEFA Champions Leaguegroup stage with their home record against Russian opponents giving particular cause for optimism.
FC Rostov, FC Torpedo Moskva and PFC CSKA Moskva have all been beaten at the Stade Abbé-Deschamps and, given the way his side performed in the first leg, coach Jean Fernandez is quietly hopeful Zenit might go the same way. "We might have got a better result in the end," said the 55-year-old. "I was surprised given that we were facing the Russian league leaders that we were still matching them physically at the end of the game."
With Zenit's match fitness having little bearing on the first leg, Fernandez feels a third UEFA Champions League group-stage campaign is within Auxerre's reach. "We still have a chance to win this tie if we deliver a great performance," he said, having taken further confidence from the way his side came from behind to draw 1-1 against Valenciennes FC at the weekend. "That was a good test of our organisation ahead of the Zenit game. Valenciennes were a very similar side to Zenit; a very good team. I watched to see how the team responded when went behind. It was fine."
With their league fixture against PFC CSKA Moskva rescheduled to October, Zenit enjoyed a weekend off, allowing winger Vladimir Bystrov to return to training after shaking off an injury. "Bystrov is a very important member of our team, especially when he is 100% fit," said Zenit coach Luciano Spalletti. "He has a 90% chance of playing."
Untroubled by injuries and suspensions, Spalletti must now decide which players will not make the cut. "When I have 23 or 24 players at my disposal, someone has to miss out," explained the 51-year-old Italian, who led Zenit to their first Russian Cup success since 1999 earlier this year.
Portuguese centre-back Bruno Alves, Zenit's key summer signing, believes his side can hold on in Auxerre. "If we play as well as we did in St Petersburg, we will make it," the 28-year-old said. "We were classy on the counterattack and good in possession. We proved that Zenit deserve to be in the group stage."