Maribor to make most of purple patch

Having won 3-2 at FC Zürich last week, coach Darko Milanič is urging NK Maribor not to blow it as the Slovenian side seek a belated return to the UEFA club competition group stages.

Maribor coach Darko Milanič is dreaming of a group stage place
Maribor coach Darko Milanič is dreaming of a group stage place ©Miha Vidrih/SiOL Sportal

Having won 3-2 at FC Zürich last week, coach Darko Milanič is urging NK Maribor not to blow it as the Slovenian side seek a belated return to the UEFA club competition group stages.

Landmark achievement
Maribor sealed their standing as the most successful and popular Slovenian side since independence when they reached the group stage of the 1999/00 UEFA Champions League, but they have failed to emulate that achievement since. However, a 3-2 win in Switzerland has left them within an ace of the UEFA Champions League play-offs, and at least a place in the UEFA Europa League group stage this autumn.

Hard work ahead
With the Ljudski vrt Stadium already sold out for the arrival of the Swiss champions, former Yugoslavia and Slovenia defender Milanič knows the pressure is on. "Our opponents are strong and there is still some hard work waiting for us in Maribor," said the 41-year-old, whose side beat NK Nafta Lendava 3-1 at the weekend to secure their first league win of 2009/10 at the third attempt.

'So close'
European football is certainly proving to be a major distraction for the Vijoličasti (the Purples) and their fans, with Brazilian striker Marcos Tavares – the side's top scorer last season with 15 league goals – saying: "The next round is so close but also a long way away. The important thing is that our minds are on the job. We have a big chance but we have to be careful. They will do everything to stop us. We must fight."

Eighth title
Top-flight contenders from 1967 to 1972 in Yugoslavia, Maribor won seven straight Slovenian titles from 1997 to 2003 but were in dire financial straits in recent seasons. However, the arrival of Milanič – who works in tandem with his former international team-mate, sporting director Zlatko Zahovič – has heralded better times, with the club claiming their eighth Slovenian title last season.

Edgy captain
Having knocked out Tbilisi's FC WIT Georgia in the second qualifying round, Maribor are now close to a return to old glories in Europe, but captain Zoran Pavlovič remains edgy. "We will have to score," said Pavlovič, who scored the winner in Zurich. "We have the advantage but we still have to work hard. Zürich are still a quality team. They have good individuals; they are fast and skilful and most likely they will show more hunger."

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