Krunoslav Jurčić urged his GNK Dinamo Zagreb players to put "the icing on the cake" in their play-off against FK Austria Wien, whose coach wants a belated birthday gift.
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GNK Dinamo Zagreb coach Krunoslav Jurčić urged his players to seize the moment when they host FK Austria Wien in the first leg of their play-off tie on Wednesday.
The Croatian club are seeking a hat-trick of UEFA Champions League group stage appearances after making light work of CS Fola Esch and FC Sheriff in the previous qualifying rounds. Jurčić is too savvy to fall victim to complacency, though, and knows that the Austrian title holders will provide a sterner examination of Dinamo's resolve.
"We have a clear plan in place. Getting past Sheriff was nice and now it's a case of putting the icing on the cake," said the 43-year-old. "My players are aware of the prize at stake; they have worked extremely hard for this opportunity. We must respect our opponents, who are very solid and well-organised."
Given Dinamo's formidable record of eight successive wins in home qualifiers, they have reason for confidence, yet Jurčić offered an additional note of caution when pointing to the visitors' counterattacking threat.
"We possess the quality to reach the Champions League group stage once more. I'm sure our fans will create a fantastic atmosphere. They make our job a lot easier," he said, adding: "Austria may not have the individual quality, but they have fantastic team spirit. I expect them to sit back away from home and wait to pounce on our mistakes."
His rival coach, Nenad Bjelica, is aware of the "danger" the hosts pose – citing Dinamo forwards Junior Fernándes and Duje Čop – yet promised that his team will not just sit back and defend. They will, he says, be "trying to score one more goal than our opponents".
Austria certainly warmed up with a flurry of goals, beating SC Wiener Neustadt 5-0 on Saturday and Bjelica, who turned 42 on Tuesday, is hopeful of having further reason to celebrate. "Today is my birthday and it would be a lovely present from my players tomorrow if they could give me a good result," said the Croatian, who confirmed the absence of the injured Alexander Gorgon.
"Of course, Dinamo are favourites – not only they have more experience than us, but they have quality players," he added, "but we won the Austrian championship, we have an experienced team who know each other well and are massively motivated to reach the Champions League [group stage] for the first time in the club's history."
With those high stakes he expects his team to give "10-15% more than usual" and his captain, Manuel Ortlechner, is hopeful they are finding their form at the perfect time. "Our 5-0 victory against Wiener Neustadt came at the right moment, it just boosts our confidence and although not all the players were on top form, we are getting there and we'll be at our best against Dinamo."