Armed with extraordinary self-confidence, Slovakian minnows FC ViOn Zlaté Moravce are ready for "another fight" at home to FC Zenit St. Petersburg.
FC Zenit St. Petersburg would have been forgiven for studying an atlas after being drawn against FC ViOn Zlaté Moravce in the UEFA Cup second qualifying round – after all, until last year, few fans in their native Slovakia had even heard of the club. The Russian media remain convinced that Thursday's game pits Dick Advocaat's men against "a village team".
The truth is slightly less picturesque. Zlaté Moravce is a town in western Slovakia with a population of some 13,000, whose local club have emerged as top-flight and European contenders in the space of a remarkable season. Coach Ján Rosinský led the side to Slovakian Cup glory in 2006/07 as well as promotion to the Superliga.
Eighth in the 12-team league after five games of the new campaign, Zlaté Moravce have continued their fairy-tale progress in Europe. Drawn against Kazakhstan's FC Alma-Ata – a team boasting ten times their annual budget – in the first qualifying round, Rosinský's men won 3-1 at home and drew 1-1 away. "I always believed we could go further," said the coach.
Such faith has been a factor in the club's development, and Rosinský goes into the tie against Russian giants Zenit with the same stubborn optimism. "I trust this team," he said. "The players help each other if someone makes a mistake. Because of this I think we can spring another surprise. Zenit are favourites but we want to win at home and I would prefer to win without conceding because we need to travel to St Petersburg in a good position."
A sell-out crowd at the 3,350-capacity FC ViOn Stadium is guaranteed for Zenit's visit, but supporters may be denied the chance to see captain Peter Cernák – scorer of the club's goal in Almaty – in action as he struggles with injury. "Two days ago I couldn't walk but now it looks better," he said. "I hope I will get the opportunity to play."
'Our chance will come'
The odds remain stacked against them, yet sporting director Milan Galaba insists Zlaté Moravce are "ready for another fight". Rosinský added: "We cannot play attacking football against a team as good as Zenit but if we wait, our chance will come. I am going to enjoy it. We have never played such an important match. It will certainly be a big match for us. A big, big day."