Monday 22 January 2018

'They are not a Sunday League team' - Zenit wary of Dundalk challenge

Dundalk are enjoying a dream European adventure
Dundalk are enjoying a dream European adventure
Zenit St Petersburg manager Mircea Lucescu. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile
Aidan Fitzmaurice

Aidan Fitzmaurice

When they rejected a recent offer of €30million from Juventus to sign Belgium international Axel Witsel, destroyer of the Republic of Ireland at Euro 2016, Zenit St Petersburg showed just how serious they were about being a force in European football.

And their desire to succeed has been stressed by their veteran coach Mircea Lucescu ahead of this evening's Europa League date with Dundalk.

Both Zenit as a club (2008) and Lucescu as a coach (2009) have won this competition before and as the highest-ranked side in the competition this season, Zenit would see winning the trophy as a very real ambition, with Champions League qualification for winning the Europa League an added bonus.

Barring a 4-0 loss in a Cup game last week, it's been a blemish-free spell for Zenit, a side bankrolled by the mighty Gazprom conglomerate which allows them to sign highly-rated players like the classy Brazilian international Giuliano, scorer against Dundalk in Dublin last month and also hold on to players like Witsel.

A club on the up, and on the move, to a spanking new 67,000-seater stadium next year, Zenit expect to have a full house for the Dundalk visit (where most fans have paid around €7 for the privilege) and those fans expect yet another win.

The local media here underlined their lack of real interest in Dundalk by peppering Stephen Kenny with childish questions about his players' jobs outside of football and what they bought Kenny for his birthday last week.

But the wily old coach Lucescu (71) knows that Dundalk are no tourists and that his side had to work hard for their win in Ireland and may have to work again.

"I expect a difficult game. They have nothing to lose, only to win. Zenit have a lot to lose in this game," Lucescu said.

"There are some impressions that Dundalk are not a good team, but that's not true. They are not a Sunday league team. They have good players, are well-organised, and they play European football, not British-style football like before, kick and run."

Irish Independent

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