AFC Rapid Bucuresti kick off their Group G campaign against Stade Rennais FC with coach Razvan Lucescu going head to head with compatriot Laszlo Bölöni.
Literally it seems, as Lucescu is convinced his fellow Romanian is playing mind games as kick-off approaches. "Bölöni's statement that he is not interested in the UEFA Cup is strategic," Lucescu said. "He is very intelligent and tries to hide his real intentions. The fact is, we are underdogs in this group, but we will fight to qualify."
Rapid, still without injured midfielders Constantin Stancu and Valentin Negru, go into the game with confidence high after winning 2-1 at FC Farul Constanta on Sunday to take fourth place in the Romanian First Division. Goals from Mugurel Buga and Daniel Niculae put Rapid 2-0 up within 16 minutes and though Farul reduced arrears in the second half, Rapid held on for their fourth successive league match without defeat. "It was a victory for our morale," Lucescu said.
Rennes too are on a high after three straight Ligue 1 wins, but Bölöni anticipates few favours on his return home. "I expect a friendless welcome. Romanian fans are buoyant and nationalistic," said Bölöni, a former Romania coach and European Champion Clubs' Cup winner as a player with FC Steaua Bucuresti in 1986.
Rennes, who lost their Group G opener against VfB Stuttgart, continued their improving domestic form with a 2-1 home victory over FC Metz on Saturday. Goals from Alexander Frei and John Utaka helped lift the Breton club into eighth place in France. Injuries have hit hard, however, and Rennes will be missing five key men with Kim Källström, Andreas Isaksson, Jean-Joël Perrier Doumbé, Youssouf Hadji and captain Cyril Jeunechamp all sidelined.