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Manolo Jimenez: Zenit is a scary team even without Kerzhakov

AEK`s head coach spoke at his pre-match press conference about his opponent`s top level, Alexander Kerzhakov, and the movie Gladiator.

– This is one of the most important matches that AEK will play this season. We have to be ready for such an important match, and give it all our attention. We think that tomorrow will be a celebration for all the fans who come to support us. And we really do need support, since we understand that presently Zenit is one of the strongest teams in Europe. This is a team that could have been playing in the Champions League, and which would have made it to the spring stages of that tournament. I think that the enthusiasm and professionalism that AEK`s players show on Thursday will be worthy of Zenit`s level.

– A tie is good enough for you tomorrow. Does that mean that your team will play cautiously?
– I`ve been in professional football for thirty-five years, and all of my experience will be aimed at winning tomorrow, not at a tie.

– Tell us, how did you study your opponent? Did you watch anything special before the match?
– I can`t say that our preparations were somehow different than usual. We watched everything the way we always do, considering that Zenit is a really European team, which gives us a particular psychological challenge.

– So you didn`t watch anything special?
– I watched the Gladiator DVD at home (laughs). Zenit is a very well-known team, and we know what they can do. We focused on how to fix the mistakes we made earlier, not on how a top club like Zenit is going to play against us.

– Alexander Kerzhakov played for your team when you were coach of Sevilla. Why didn`t you have a better partnership at that time?
– I consider him to be one of the best strikers I`ve ever known. But it was a little hard for him to get used to the way Sevilla played football. And of course it was quite difficult for him to play with Kanoute and Luis Fabiano. Alexander Kerzhakov could play for any big club, and could play for Sevilla. If you don`t like his play then we`ll be happy to take him back.

– Are you happy that he`s not playing against you tomorrow? Will that give you some kind of advantage?
– Of course he could play tomorrow, and that would create a lot of problems for us. But I`m sure that Alexander Bukharov, who came to Zenit from Kazan, will play just as well tomorrow, and can replace Kerzhakov at the same level. Such things happen in all teams. There`s always a rotation. So I think Zenit will most likely show attractive, strong football.