Kick Off: Wednesday, February 24, 2010. 18:30 CET
Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow
Coming In From The Cold
For nearly three months CSKA have been hibernating, waiting to wake for the spring and the restart of their Champions League campaign, which will see the Moscow club pitted against La Liga giants Sevilla.
The Koni announced themselves as a real European force back in 2005, when they claimed the UEFA Cup, but they have yet to excel in the elite competition, habitually failing to pass through the group stages. Now such an obstacle is overcome, they will be anticipating the knockout rounds with impatience.
Paired against Manchester United, Wolfsburg and Besiktas, the Russians certainly had no cakewalk through to the last 16. Indeed, they caused quite a stir along the way, flexing their muscles with a 3-3 draw at Old Trafford, which really should have ended in their favour.
Any doubts about the mentality of Leonid Slutsky’s side when playing away from home were spectacularly dispelled in matchday 6, when a 2-1 victory in the cauldron of the BJK Inonu Stadium saw CSKA pick up the final qualifying berth.
This squad is now into unknown territory, but a side containing quickly rising stars such Milos Krasic, who walks a suspension tightrope ahead of the second leg, and Alan Dzagoev will attack their guests with typical fearlessness.
Europe has proved a fruitful hunting ground for Sevilla this season, and los Rojiblancos will aim to keep their strong run in the Champions League going when they travel to Moscow on Wednesday evening to face CSKA.
While los Nervionenses haven’t exactly floundered in La Primera – they are, after all, fourth – there have been doubts cast about their ability to claim one of the two Champions League qualification spots that won’t be filled by either Real Madrid or Barcelona. Consistency has been a real problem for Manolo Jimenez’s side, though there have been signs that they are starting to battle their demons successfully.
Arguably their finest result of the season in terms of La Liga came at the weekend, when they became the first side to avoid defeat at the ONO Estadi, home of Mallorca. The Islanders were slayed by a convincing 3-1 margin, with the Andalusians scoring through Jesus Navas, Ivica Dragutinovic and Diego Perotti after Mario Suarez had given the hosts an early lead.
Cup competitions have proven to be Sevilla’s specialist subject this season, though. Already they have marched to the final of the Copa del Rey, in which they are the favourites to defeat Atletico Madrid, while the Champions League has also proven a successful battlefie to date.
Los Rojiblancos easily finished top of a group stage pool containing Rangers, Unirea Urziceni and Stuttgart, claiming 13 out of 18 points. Having negotiated a comparatively simple first hurdle, the bar will be set higher for the Spaniards on Wednesday.
LOST 3-0 (h) Dnipro (Friendly, February 18)
WON 3-1 (n) Odense (Friendly, February 9)
WON 4-1 (n) Rosenborg (Friendly, February 6)
WON 3-2 (n) Ellsberg (Friendly, February 4)
DREW 1-1 (n) New York Red Bull (Friendly, January 25)
WON 3-1 (a) Mallorca (Liga, February 20)
WON 1-0 (h) Osasuna (Liga, February 14)
LOST 1-0 (a) Getafe (Copa del Rey, February 11)
LOST 2-1 (a) Zaragoza (Liga, February 7)
WON 2-0 (h) Getafe (Copa del Rey, February 3)
One of the benefits that CSKA have enjoyed in recent times because of their lack of game-time has been being able to boast close to a fully-fit squad ahead of this fixture. Their most pressing injury doubt surrounds young attacker Alan Dzagoev, who remains confident of making kick-off.
Probable Starting XI: Akinfeev; Odiah, V. Berezutsky, Ignashevich, Schennikov; Aldonin, Rahimic; Krasic, Dzagoev, Mamaev; Necid
Manolo Jimenez has had frustrating selection problems since the turn of the year and has seen his side fail to overcome these ahead of this fixture. Luis Fabiano and Diego Capel both complained of problems after the weekend’s fixture and have not made the cut to travel.
Sergio Sanchez continues to abstain from professional football after learning he has a heart problem in the early winter months. Meanwhile, Sebastien Squillaci is still trying to overcome an ankle issue and Abdoulay Konko again misses out because of adductor problems that have sidelined since the middle of January.
Probable Starting XI: Palop; Stankevicius, Dragutinovic, Escude, Navarro; Navas, Renato, Zokora, Perotti; Negredo, Kanoute
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Milos Krasic has been courted by a number of clubs following his impressive displays during the 2009 Russian season. He has already impressed against Manchester United in this edition of the Champions League and will be looking to show he can perform to an elite standard on a regular basis. Arguably the biggest worry for the Serbian is his lack of competitive match practise in recent times.
Controlled aggression will be key for the visitors, so they will want Alvaro Negredo to keep a lid on his temper. The former Real Madrid man has been dismissed twice in his last three Liga games and cannot afford to let his side down on Wednesday as superior opposition will be quick to punish any foolishness. With five goals in his last eight league appearances, he is a potent force who must be correctly harnessed. His responsibility to the side is tremendous, particularly because of Luis Fabiano’s injury.
The outcome of this match will in part be decided by what Sevilla side decides to show its face in Moscow. Los Nervionenses will also be aided by CKSA’s competitive inactivity over the course of the last two months, which is sure to favour the Spaniards. On the other hand, the Muscovites are generally tough to match at home and should provide a stern examination for the guests.
CSKA Moscow 1-2 Sevilla