Blackburn Rovers are in Poland looking to extend their unbeaten run in Europe to three games and kick-off the group campaign successfully. However, Poland`s top team and experienced UEFA Cup performers Wisla Krakow stand in the way.
Rovers` last performance in Poland culminated in a 1-0 defeat against Legia Warsaw. Hughes and his troops will be looking to avenge that against Poland`s second most popular team.
Confidence is high amongst the Rovers players and they currently fear no-one as witnessed against Liverpool in their own back-yard; even the Kop could see how comfortable Rovers were.
Mark Hughes on Europe: “We`ve got points on the board in the Premier League and we`ve got to the group stages of the UEFA Cup which is also important this year because we want to progress in Europe. It will help the development of the team.“
Brett Emerton on Europe, form and the group: “With each game if you play well you gain confidence, and I think that is showing throughout our team and we`ve gone seven games unbeaten so we are confident at the moment and hopefully we`ll continue that form.
“The UEFA Cup is of huge importance for us, it isn`t everyday you get to play in European competitions. I think everybody wants to do well and know from previous experiences what a great experience it can be.
“It is quite a tough group but in saying that I still feel confident that we are one of the better teams and should qualify as long as we perform near our best.“
Wisla Krakow Team News:
Inspirational defensive stars Jacob Burns and Arkadiusz Glowacki are both missing having been sidelined through long-term injuries. Mauro Cantoro is likely to replace Burns after Burns took his position earlier in the season. Either Stolarczyk or Kokoszka will deputize in the absence of Glowacki.
Michael Thwaite is unlikely to play after a wrangling with his former employers led to £45,000 fine. Apparently he signed for Wisla a day too soon as he was still contracted to Romanian side F C National Bucuresti.
Wisla are likely to continue using Paweł Brożek, Radovanović up front.
Player to watch: Pawel Brozek
Despite being without a goal for a while now, Brozek is a young lad with huge potential and the ability to turn a game in a second. He has pace, power and ability in abundance. He is likely to cause the Rovers defence plenty of problems and he also provides a notable distraction for fellow forward Radovanovic, who is back amongst the goals.
Blackburn Rovers Team News:
Many sources believe that Mark Hughes will name an unchanged side from the one that performed so impressively against Liverpool at the weekend. This is a clear indication that Hughes is going for it in the opening game.
Rovers were dealt a huge blow this week with news that Steven Reid will be absent from first-team duties for a further four months. He now officially joins Nelsen in admiring the doctor`s four walls.
Other than that Hughes has a full squad at his disposal.
Blackburn (from): Friedel, Neill, Khizanishvili, Tugay, Emerton, Savage, Bentley, Nonda, McCarthy, Pedersen, Mokoena, Jeffers, Gallagher, Ooijer, Brown, Gray, Peter, McEveley, Roberts.
Player to watch: Shabani Nonda
Just like his strike partner, Benni McCarthy, he is vastly experienced at this level and that will prove invaluable. He has looked good but disappointingly for both himself and Rovers fans he has only scored the one goal so far. It is clear for all to see that he is ready to explode and I feel this will provide the perfect setting for him; with his pace causing particular problems for the home side.
Match Facts & Stats
This is the second time Rovers have faced a Polish side having competed against Legia Warsaw home and away in the 1995/1996 season.
This is the first time that Wisla have faced English opposition in over 70 European fixtures.
This is Wisla`s 75th European game. They have won 34, drawn 16 and lost 24.
Stefan Johannesson (SWE). He has already refereed an English team this season when he took charge of West Ham`s 1-0 home defeat against Palermo. Let’s hope he oversees an English win for the first time on Thursday.
Rovers will be entering a cauldron of noise and the sanguine home fans will provide quite an intimidating atmosphere. However, Rovers looked too sharp and slick for Salzburg in the last round. They were, of course, leaders of the Austrian top division as Wisla are in the Polish top flight but I believe Hughes` men will have too much quality on Thursday. There are a number of experienced players out there, enough to see Rovers through.
Rovers will gain a 2-1 victory with Nonda the star of the show.
Bolton Wanderers at Ewood Park on Sunday 22nd October 2006; 15:00