With searing temperatures in F.Y.R. Macedonia, FK Pobeda are burning to set up a second qualifying round tie against Serbian giants FK Crvena Zvezda.
Macedonian champions FK Pobeda are hoping to put player defections and dispiriting pre-season results behind them as they meet FC Levadia Tallinn on Wednesday, with a second qualifying round tie against FK Crvena Zvezda on offer for the overall winners.
The Prilep-based side took the title on the final day of the 2006/07 season in May, but have had a rough ride since with two key players leaving and no replacements being signed. Captain Toni Meglenski has joined Croatia's NK Medžimurje while Serbian defender Vlada Marković has agreed to join Polish giants Wisła Kraków.
Pobeda's pre-season trip to Serbia only underlined how hard life will be without those two key figures. Nikolce Zdravevski's side played in friendly games against local sides FK Vojvodina, FK Hajduk Kula and FK Mladost Apatin, losing 2-0, 3-1 and 3-0. With another Serbian side, Crvena Zvezda, awaiting the winner of their first qualifying round tie, those were hardly encouraging results.
With the home leg of their tie against Estonian champions Levadia looming, Pobeda are not giving in to despair. "We are not worried about these defeats," said Zdravevski. "We played well in our friendly matches and during the games I gave all of our players a chance. We are ready for Levadia Tallinn. We know that they are tough opponents but we will do our best."
Sweltering temperatures in Skopje may give the home side an added advantage tonight, while goalkeeper Darko Tofiloski - a Macedonian Under-21 international - knows his side have a huge opportunity to impress. "The whole city is living for this match against Levadia Tallinn," he said. "This is the match of our career for all the Pobeda players. Our main goal is to win by two goals which I hope will be enough to reach the second qualifying round. We would like to bring former European champions Crvena Zvezda to our home city."