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Damien on the draw

Posted on 7 October 2008  - 12:00

Home games against Dinamo Zagreb and Spartak Moscow might catch the eye but our Sporting Director Damien Comolli feels Udinese will provide just as stern a test as we kick-off our UEFA Cup group in Italy later this month.

Damien on the draw

Home games against Dinamo Zagreb and Spartak Moscow might catch the eye but our Sporting Director Damien Comolli feels Udinese will provide just as stern a test as we kick-off our UEFA Cup group in Italy later this month.

We travel to the north-east of Italy for the first game of Group D on October 23 to face the side currently joint-top of Serie A with Lazio at the Stadiu Friuli, Udine.

Udinese challenged for a place in the Champions League for most of last season before falling away to finish seventh. They qualified for the UEFA Cup because Copa Italia finalists Roma and Inter finished in Champions League qualifying places.

They qualified for the group stages after being Borussia Dortmund on penalties.

"Udinese are a traditional Italian club that always has a good team with talented players," said Damien from the draw in Nyon, Switzerland. "They have a mixture of Italian and South American players and a mix of youth and experience.

"They had a good season last season and were challenging for the Champions League up until Christmas but had a bit of a dip and eventually finished seventh.

"The stadium is very different to what we're used to in England as it has a track all the way around it and it will be a tough start for us."

After Udinese, we face Croatian champions Dinamo Zagreb, the former club of both Luka Modric and Vedran Corluka, at the Lane on November 6.

"They are top of the Croatian league again and very consistent," said Damien. "They have signed three or four South American players in the summer but you'll still find home-grown players of high quality there as well.

"We have a very good relationship with them and both clubs were pleased to have drawn each other.

"Luka Modric will be relishing the game. I spoke to him after we played in Poland and he was looking forward to the draw and now he's up against his former club."

Our second away match in the group takes us to the east of Holland and NEC Nijmegen on November 27. "They qualified for the UEFA Cup through the play-off system in Holland and they have good talent, very similar to another Dutch club FC Twente and will play football in the Dutch way. It's another difficult game for us."

We wrap up the group with an intriguing clash against Russian side Spartak Moscow at the Lane on either December 17/18, date to be confirmed.

Roman Pavlyuchenko's former side kicked-off the season in the Champions League but were knocked out by Dinamo Kiev.

"First of all, we're pleased not to be playing away on the artificial surface at their stadium," said Damien. "They are a good football side with a new coach in Michael Laudrup, who we came up against when he was with Getafe in the UEFA Cup last season.

"They have a mixture of South American and Russian talent and the Russian teams are strong, as showed by CSKA Moscow and Zenit St Petersburg in this competition. Spartak are a big club in Russia and this will be a big game for us."