PFC CSKA Moskva's burgeoning self-belief will be tested in their semi-final at Italian outfit Parma FC.
By Paolo Menicucci & Pavel Gognidze
Alberto Gilardino and Domenico Morfeo will be mere onlookers when Parma FC welcome PFC CSKA Moskva to the Ennio Tardini for their UEFA Cup semi-final first leg.
Gialloblu coach Pietro Carmignani has remained true to his word and omitted some of his senior players from the squad with one eye on their increasingly desperate relegation battle in Serie A. Gilardino and Morfeo will join injured Alex Gibbs and long-term absentees Damiano Ferronetti, Marco Marchionni, Stefano Bettarini and Vincenzo Grella on the sidelines, but Carmignani is nevertheless confident of success.
"This semi-final is very important but unfortunately it comes in a very difficult period for us," the coach said. "We have to win our home games against [AS] Livorno Calcio and [AS] Roma, two crucial games for avoiding relegation, so I have decided to rest players like Gilardino and Morfeo. CSKA are very strong and are fresh after the postponement of their league match last weekend, while we have to face them with a very young side. However, we have achieved a number of surprise results this season and hope to do it again."
Both teams have a player missing through suspension, with Mark Bresciano banned for the hosts and Evgeni Aldonin ruled out for CSKA after being booked in both legs of the Russian side's 4-2 quarter-final triumph against AJ Auxerre. CSKA's Elvir Rahimic, who is expected to play as one of two defensive midfielders alongside Deividas Semberas, has bitter memories of the clubs' last meeting in the first round of this competition two years ago: a late rally saw Parma through 4-3 on aggregate. "When we played Parma then it was very different - those matches were the first for CSKA in Europe under Valeriy Gazzaev.
"We were very nervous, far more nervous than now. Now we're calmer and more confident in ourselves. Then we were impressed by the fact we were playing an Italian side as big as Parma. That is no longer the case. Of course, we will not forget the last-minute goal in Parma which decided the tie. You don't forget something like that. Adrian Mutu hit the far corner of Ruslan Nigmatullin's goal and that was it. We thought we'd qualified, but then suffered such a blow. If something like that happens again, I will be even more disappointed. The final is so close this time."
Semberas, who hopes to help CSKA become the first Moscow club to lift European silverware, added: "A draw is not our ideal result. It's not the worst result but we will not settle for it. As for losing in Parma, I haven't even thought about it. We should forget that option. Even in theory, we should not allow ourselves to think about losing."