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Rapid look to extend Russian run

SK Rapid Wien will hope to continue a proud record against FC Lokomotiv Moskva.

By Raimund Fabi & Eduard Nisenboim

SK Rapid Wien will be hoping to repeat their feats of nine years ago when they take on FC Lokomotiv Moskva in the UEFA Champions League third qualifying round this evening.

Nine-year wait
Rapid's only other appearance in the competition came back in 1996/97, when the Austrian Bundesliga champions eliminated FC Dynamo Kyiv to seal a much-coveted place in the group stage, where they then collected two points against Juventus FC and Fenerbahçe SK.

Good form
Josef Hickersberger's side will be confident of matching the class of that year, especially after defeating FK Austria Wien 3-1 at the weekend to go level with their rivals at the summit. "We have the players to score goals and win home and away against Lokomotiv," said Austrian international Andreas Ivanschitz. "We just have to wait for our chances, which I'm sure will come."

Strength in depth
Rapid are also buoyed by the fact that Hickersberger has an almost fully fit squad to select from, with the exception of Radek Bejbl and Axel Lawaree. "Even if Bejbl and Lawaree miss the match we have good cover for both of them," Hickersberger said.

Fitness doubts
The same cannot be said of Lokomotiv though, who will be without forward Dmitri Sychev - scorer of two in the last round - after he underwent surgery this week. Key attacking midfield players Marat Izmailov and Dmitri Loskov are also struggling for fitness after being sidelined for two months.

'Very good team'
Hickersberger feels this may give his side the edge. "The absence of these three top players is no guarantee of victory but it improves our chances," he said. "Lokomotiv are a very good team and it will be hard for us but we are in good shape and hope to win the match without conceding."

Lebedenko poised
Russian Under-21 international Igor Lebedenko - who has scored five league goals this season - is likely to be Sychev's replacement in the front line as Lokomotiv seek to maintain a proud record against Austrian opposition.

Russian run
They eliminated FC Tirol and Grazer AK in 2001 and 2002 respectively, but Rapid boast an even more impressive track record, having never lost to a Russian side in European competition in five encounters. Their most recent triumph came only last season when they overcame FC Rubin Kazan in the UEFA Cup second qualifying round.

Hickersberger optimistic
"The matches against Rubin proved we are not far from the European middle rung. We can beat Lokomotiv and that is what we are aiming to do," Hickersberger concluded. If Rapid continue their record against Russian opposition they will do exactly that, remaining on course to become the first Austrian side to reach the group stage since SK Sturm Graz in 2000/01.