FK Rabotnicki will make their bow against Skonto FC with both sides targeting an encounter with Russia's finest.
By Igor Panevski & Mikhail Korolev
FK Rabotnicki coach Gjore Jovanovski is urging his players to heed caution ahead of their first appearance in the UEFA Champions League against Latvian side Skonto FC tonight.
The Skopje-based side claimed their maiden Macedonian First League title last season to book their place in the first qualifying round and although Skonto are veterans at this stage, Rabotnicki will still be confident of impressing. Nevertheless, Jovanovski is urging his players to approach the first leg with a cool head.
"We obviously hope to win the match but it is equally imperative that we don't concede," he said. "We must play patiently because in Skonto we face opponents with big international experience. They look a good team but I hope it will be us who reach the second round."
A tie with Russian champions FC Lokomotiv Moskva awaits the victor and with Skonto struggling in domestic competition, coach Jurijs Andrejevs is looking for a rare lift. The side lie third in the Latvian First Division, nine points adrift of leaders FHK Liepajas Metalurgs.
It is testament to the club's dominance in Latvia - they have won a record 14 titles in a row - that third is considered disastrous, but with the championship seemingly slipping away, the club are looking for the compensation of a rare European run.
Andrejevs is confident his team can do so and believes he has identified a flaw in Skonto's opponents. "We have studied Rabotnicki, and admittedly they do have the advantage in terms of technique," said Andrejevs, who also leads the Latvia national team. "Their attacking is good. But defensively they are prone to mistakes. Skonto will exploit that."
Ever-present in the Champions League for 14 years now, the likes of FC Barcelona, FC Internazionale Milano and Chelsea FC have all visited Riga in recent years. All predictably defeated Skonto, but losses to the likes of Sliema Wanderers FC and FC Shamkir were more painful. League successes softened the blow but Andrejevs looks unlikely to enjoy that luxury this time around.
Rabotnicki's European record is no better and their sole previous appearance, in the 2000/01 UEFA Cup, was abruptly ended after a 4-0 aggregate defeat by Ukraine's FC Vorskla Poltava in the qualifying round. A date with Lokomotiv would surely vanquish those ghosts.