Legia Warszawa end a 21-year group-stage absence tonight against Borussia Dortmund and players Nemanja Nikolić, Michał Kucharczyk and Steeven Langil tell us what it means.
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More than two decades after reaching the 1995/96 UEFA Champions League quarter-finals, Legia Warszawa are back in the group stage as they welcome Borussia Dortmund to the Stadion Wojska Polskiego on Wednesday.
They did not make it easy for themselves, only narrowly overcoming Zrinjski, Trenčín and Dundalk in three tight qualifiers, but now after three consecutive UEFA Europa League group appearances, 1969/70 European Cup semi-finalists Legia are back in the senior competition.
We spoke to three of their squad – free-scoring Hungary striker Nemanja Nikolić, club stalwart Michał Kucharczyk and a man that played in this tournament for Auxerre, Steeven Langil – about what it means to be involved in the UEFA Champions League.
- Nemanja Nikolić, forward
I always used to watch the Champions League. We'd look forward to Tuesdays and Wednesdays so that we could see Champions League matches on TV. There were a lot of sides I rooted for, but Barcelona have been my favourite team since childhood.
It has been a special year for us, with the club celebrating their 100th anniversary. Everyone expected us to be crowned champions again and everyone in Warsaw expected us to win the cup too [Legia did both], but as I said before, reaching the Champions League was a dream for us. Let me reiterate that our goal was to make the Europa League, the Champions League was a dream, so I'm delighted this dream has come true and we're in the group stage.
- Michał Kucharczyk, forward
It will certainly be a big boost for the club's finances. If you compare Legia's budget with the biggest European clubs, we're a long way behind. So let's hope that with this success we can open a small gate, through which we'll reach the Champions League every year.
Even though it won't happen quickly, we'll try to play at the same level as the middle teams, not to mention the top teams. Of course we're going to need some years to have the same budget as them and be able to sign players like they have now, but let's enjoy what we have for now. Even without a lot of money, we finally got there.
- Steeven Langil, midfielder
It is really unique and special because there is a lot of pressure. The best teams in the world are in it. It's the highest level, with only quality players, you have to focus for 90 minutes. It's something really wonderful to experience. Not every player has the opportunity to play in the Champions League but it's really something wonderful.
I remember my first game [in the 2010/11 competition with Auxerre] was in Milan and the coach told me beforehand I would start, so I was buzzing. I was 22 at the time and I couldn't sleep the night before, I was so nervous. Then we got to the San Siro, I played a good game and it all went from there.
I was lucky enough to score against Ajax and those are good memories I will never forget. I was supposed to undergo knee surgery but it didn't happen. A week later the coach told me I would play 20 minutes. I came off the bench and scored, and it allowed us to win 2-1. It was wonderful for me.