GNK Dinamo Zagreb midfielder Milan Badelj knows his team have a tough task in a Group D featuring three of Europe's strongest sides yet is confident his colleagues can surprise.
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GNK Dinamo Zagreb suffered defeat on their return to the UEFA Champions League, a 1-0 reverse at the Stadion Maksimir to Real Madrid CF on matchday one, but midfielder Milan Badelj is confident his side will cause a few shocks in this season's European campaign. As his team travel to Olympique Lyonnais, who contain among their ranks Dinamo old boy Dejan Lovren, the 22-year-old Croatian international tells UEFA.com what UEFA Champions League football means to the city of Zagreb and about his memories of the club's last assault on the elite competition 12 years ago.
UEFA.com: When Dinamo last played in the UEFA Champions League you were still at school. Do you remember those moments?
Milan Badelj: Yes, of course I remember. Those two years [1998/99 and 1999/2000] were some of the biggest moments in the club's history and the biggest moments for that great team. I hope we can contribute to Dinamo's history by winning matches in the Champions League ourselves.
UEFA.com: Did you dream at the time that you would play for Dinamo in the UEFA Champions League?
Badelj: All kids from Zagreb dream of playing for Dinamo, and it is normal for them to dream of playing against clubs like Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, Manchester United FC – all the biggest teams in Europe.
UEFA.com: Back then Dinamo played in groups with Manchester United and AFC Ajax. This time it is Ajax again and Real Madrid.
Badelj: Yes, it will not be easy. I think the group is extremely attractive-looking – Real and Ajax are renowned for playing good football and Lyon are a very strong team, full of quality. I believe every game will be a great spectacle for our fans.
UEFA.com: Has your previous experience in the UEFA Europa League prepared you for the big stage of the UEFA Champions League?
Badelj: I think competing in the Europa League in the last four or five years has helped us a lot. We are not totally inexperienced and the experience gained will help us overcome any difficult moments ahead.
UEFA.com: What kind of atmosphere can we expect at your home matches in Group D?
Badelj: It will be fantastic. People have waited too long for Champions League football in Zagreb, and I think the city and the public have really embraced our success. I am certain the public will be our 12th man. They can see the quality of our team this season, our winning mentality and the fact we give our all on the pitch for the club. I would like to thank them for this wonderful support.
UEFA.com: Which away game are you looking forward to most?
Badelj: Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabéu. It is a sacred stadium. I can already picture matchday five when we play there but that game is still far off and we have plenty of matches beforehand.
UEFA.com: What is Dinamo's goal for the campaign?
Badelj: We came into our group from the fourth pool of clubs so we are already the outsiders. However, we would not be playing if we did not believe in ourselves and we hope to surprise these big teams. We will give everything and let's see where that can take us.
UEFA.com: You played with Lyon's Dejan Lovren when he was at Dinamo and you were great friends. Have you spoken to him recently?
Badelj: Yes, I saw him with the national team. He knows it is not going to be easy for them. However, he is confident they will win the match, although I am certain that will not happen! We've joked about it. Let's wait and see what happens.