Zenit St Petersburg midfielder
Roman Shirokov has dismissed Cypriot champions APOEL Nicosia as
nothing more than Champions League pretenders as the group phase
approaches its climax.
Shirokov boldly predicted outright victory for his team when
the Russian champions host surprise Group G leaders APOEL in a
penultimate round match on Wednesday.
"I think you can call us the group favourites now," he told
reporters after Zenit beat Ukraine's Shakhtar Donetsk 1-0 in
their previous fixture to stay in second place with seven points
from four matches, a point behind the Cypriots.
"We still have one more home game to play against this
surprising team, but we must beat them and advance to the
knockout round. We should have won our first match against them [in Cyprus] but just committed too many errors," he added.
"Hopefully, we won't make the same mistake this time."
The outspoken Russia international infuriated Spartak Moscow
fans this year with his comments on Twitter.
"Hey you little pigs, congratulations on the well-deserved
defeat!" he wrote after Zenit crushed their bitter Russian
league rivals 3-0.
He also called Slovakia's national side a "farmers' team"
after Russia beat the Slovaks 1-0 in last month's Euro 2012
qualifier to all but secure a place in next year's finals.
At least Shirokov can back up his provocative comments. He
is Zenit's top scorer in the Champions League with three goals
in four games - not a bad statistic for a holding midfielder.
APOEL came from behind to stun Zenit 2-1 in their group
opener in September and have continued their amazing run in
Europe to remain the only unbeaten team in the group.
The Cypriots would reach the knockout round for the first
time in their history if they avoid defeat in St Petersburg.
"We have chances of being in the round of 16 and we're going
to chase them in the two remaining matches," said APOEL captain
Constantinos Charalambides. "We're a team which does well in
these kind of challenges."
The visitors are sweating on the fitness of their top
striker, Brazilian Ailton Almeida, who has scored three of his
team's six goals in four group matches, while his compatriot
defender William Boaventura is out injured.
Zenit have their own injury problems. Striker Alexander
Kerzhakov, the team's leading scorer in the Russian league this
season, is sidelined with an ankle sprain, while influential
Portugal winger Danny is still being troubled by a bad knee.
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