CSKA v Porto
The current European Champions lie bottom of Group H but a win in freezing Moscow early this evening could see them leap to second spot.
Despite no wins in their first four matches Porto can still qualify for the knockout stage of the competition but defeat will see them struggle to claim a UEFA Cup spot. Two points behind both tonight’s opponents CSKA Moscow and Part St Germain it is do-or-die for the Portugese team.
CSKA Moscow come into the match on the back of two successive defeats to runaway group leaders Chelsea. Victory tonight though will mean that they just require a draw in the final match against PSG, irrespective of how PSG fair in their game tonight.
The game will be played in sub-zero temperatures, despite the early kick-off.
Porto coach Victor Fernandez said: “The most important thing will not be the temperature of the air, but the condition of the pitch.
“I think CSKA are more used to low temperatures and that will give them an advantage. But we are professionals and will be ready to play.”
CSKA coach Valeri Gazzaev, whose side were dramatically deposed as domestic champions earlier this month, disagreed. He said: “It is the same problem for both sides. We play only two or three games a season in such conditions.”
Gazzaev added the “excellent facilities” at the club’s training camp have helped, along with a heated dome over the Lokomotiv stadium’s pitch.
“The pitch is heated and we can train at full strength,” he said. “The only problem is that many players, except those who have played international matches, are short of regular football.”
While the Russian season finished on 11 November, Porto have shown good form of late to reach the top of the Portuguese league, although they were beaten 1-0 by Boavista on Saturday.
Gazzaev should have a strong squad at his disposal with only Nigerian right-back Chidi Odiah doubtful after a shoulder injury. One selection dilemma may be whether to find a place for Argentinian Osmar Ferreyra, possibly at the expense of Deividas Semberas, should he require more creativity.
Further forward, Ivica Olic is nearing full fitness after a thigh problem and will almost certainly feature, despite Gazzaev admitting he has been “experiencing some troubles”.
With a strong lineup, the coach knows his side are favourites to triumph.
“We have home advantage but we still have to prove it,” Gazzaev said. “We have only one task – to win.”
He added that his players would need no incentive, because “anyone playing against Porto is highly motivated because they are the reigning champions”.
Nor is there need for extra motivation in the Porto camp. Fernandez explained: “We face a decisive situation. Only three points can open the door to the next round for us.”
Goalkeeper Vítor Baía will be missing in Moscow however as he has a muscle injury.
Fernandez is also worried about Diego, with the talented playmaker’s availability depending on advice from the club’s medical staff.
“I doubt he will play,” the coach said.
“Everything will depend on what the doctors say.”
Such concerns are of more importance to Fernandez than the conditions, although he is still wary.
He added: “They do not have stars in the squad, but still have plenty of attacking options.”