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Preud´homme prepares to show his hand

Michel Preud'homme

Club Brugge will need to maintain their record unbeaten streak if they are to come through their UEFA Europa League quarter-final clash with Dnipro, but coach Michel Preud'homme is expecting a "poker game" in Ukraine.

A goalless draw in the first leg, which saw Club Brugge become the first side in Europa League history to go 11 games unbeaten from the start of the group stage, leaves the Belgian outfit needing to score at the Olympic Stadium in Kiev if they are to progress without the need for a penalty shootout.

An away goal for Club Brugge would see Dnipro requiring two in response and Preud'homme believes the permutations should make for a fascinating fixture.

Speaking after the first leg, he said: "I thought the draw was fair since both teams created opportunities. It was just a shame we could not make it 1-0 with the chance of [Jose] Izquierdo. That's my only regret, because now we have to give more in Ukraine.

"At this level you have to finish such an opportunity. But the boys did their best, worked hard and tried to disrupt the defence of Dnipro.

"They [Dnipro] also had quality. [Goalkeeper] Mathew Ryan was again very important.

"We are still in the running for qualification and, most importantly, it's up to us to score over there.

"It is a poker game, because Dnipro need to score against us. It remains to be seen how they will handle it.

"As I have said previously, Dnipro is a team with individual qualities and a strong organisation and therefore they are in the quarter-finals.

"Dnipro is perhaps our most complete opponent to date in this Europa League."

While Club Brugge are the only unbeaten club left in the competition, Dnipro have lost four since the beginning of he group stage - as many as they have won.

The Belgians have triumphed in six of their seven away matches, but come up against opposition who have been victorious in their last three Europa League home games without conceding.

Valeriy Fedorchuk is suspended for the hosts after the midfielder picked up a booking in the first leg.


Villas-Boas wary despite key player returns

Andre Villas-Boas

Andre Villas-Boas admits Zenit face a huge challenge to qualify for the UEFA Europa League's semi-finals, despite the return of key players for the visit of Sevilla.

The Russian Premier League leaders were beaten 2-1 in the first leg of their last-eight tie in Seville as Carlos Bacca and Denis Suarez scored after Aleksandr Ryazantsev's opener.

Villas-Boas was without the banned quartet of Domenico Criscito, Igor Smolnikov, Danny and Hulk, while Anatoliy Tymoshchuk was only fit enough for a brief appearance off the bench.

That suspended quartet are back in the frame for Thursday's second leg, with Ezequiel Garay and Ryazantsev the only players banned for Zenit.

Viktor Fayzulin is unlikely to feature due to a knee injury. 

However, Zenit fans will be buoyed by victories in their last three European home games - without conceding a goal - and Villas-Boas wants to make it a difficult night at the Petrovsky Stadium for Unai Emery's men.

Asked whether the return of numerous players made the task easier, Villas-Boas said: "No it's definitely not going to be simpler.

"Yes they are returning, but what can really help us is support in the stadium.

"I am calling on everyone to come to the Petrovsky and give everything they have for the game.

"The atmosphere that the fans are going to create can really help the team out."

Defending champions and three-time winners Sevilla have won the tournament every time they have made the last eight.

Emery's side have tasted defeat just once in 13 games - the Supercopa Euroamericana loss to River Plate - with their only injury concern being Daniel Carrico (thigh).

Colombian striker Bacca is eager to finish the job in Russia and return to former club and fellow quarter-finalists Club Brugge on the way to the final.

"With Sevilla having it won three times, there is a lot of excitement about playing in it," Bacca told UEFA.com.

"But we don't want to just play in it - we want to become champions. It's not easy, we know that, but the Europa League is a competition that Sevilla and the Sevilla fans like a lot.

"Hopefully we'll get past Zenit and Club Brugge will get to the next round, too, and then we'd face them sooner or later. 

"I would like to go back to the Jan Breydelstadion and feel the affection of the Club Brugge fans and win. It would be something special to face them."


PSG beat Nice to forget Barcelona defeat

Javier Pastore

Paris Saint-Germain bounced back from their UEFA Champions League humbling against Barcelona by beating Nice 3-1 to boost their bid for a hat-trick of Ligue 1 titles.

A clinical first half finish from Javier Pastore put PSG in charge against the run of play before Mathieu Bodmer deflected a speculative effort from Said Benrahma to level with the last kick of the half. But Paris took a decisive lead in the second half with a fine volley from Pastore and an Edinson Cavani penalty in a game sandwiched between Champions League commitments.

PSG temporarily moved a point ahead Lyon at the top of the table ahead of Sunday's derby against Saint-Etienne. With Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marco Verratti suspended, on top of injuries to Thiago Silva and Thiago Motta, PSG coach Laurent Blanc had to rely on a reshuffled team to get past the French Riviera side.

Lucas Moura, Serge Aurier and Lucas Digne were introduced into the starting line-up while former Chelsea defender David Luiz, despite not being fully fit, was bestowed with the captain's armband. But it was Pastore's fourth goal of the season, following a defence-opening pass by Lucas, who gave PSG the breakthrough with their first real chance of the match.

It was, however, quickly cancelled out by former Parisian Bodmer, although Nice still went into the half-time break frustrated to have nothing more to show form their first half dominance. The second half was a complete reversal, though, as Nice goalkeeper Simon Pouplin shined, preventing David Luiz and Lucas from finding the back of the net.

Pastore added his second of the afternoon just after the hour mark as he latched onto a rebound after Pouplin saved his original driven effort. Cavani, brought down in the box by Jordan Amavi, bagged his ninth of the season on 69 minutes to seal the deal.

In Saturday's late games Monaco missed the chance to take a significant step towards returning to the Champions League next season as they conceded an equaliser two minutes from time at home to Rennes.

Bernardo Silva had given them a 28th minute lead but Habib Habibou struck late on to snatch a 1-1 draw for the Bretons. Monaco remain in third place as they refocus on overturning a 1-0 first-leg deficit at home to Juventus in the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final in midweek.

But crucially, they failed to fully exploit fourth-placed Marseille's continued slump as Marcelo Bielsa's side went down to a 1-0 defeat at Nantes on Friday night. They are now two points behind Monaco in the fight for third place.

Metz and Lens switched places in the bottom two as the former gained three crucial points in the relegation fight with a 2-1 win, although they remain eight points from safety. Toulouse climbed three points away from the drop zone with a 1-0 win at third from bottom Lorient.

Corsicans Bastia and Evian are only two points above Lorient after the former lost 2-1 at home to Reims and the latter drew 1-1 at Guingamp.


Wenger eyes Cup record

Arsene Wenger

Arsene Wenger set his sights on a record-breaking FA Cup triumph after holders Arsenal rode their luck to return to the final with a 2-1 win over Reading.

Wenger's club will contest a record 19th FA Cup final against Aston Villa or Liverpool thanks to a howler from Reading goalkeeper Adam Federici, who allowed Alexis Sanchez's tame extra-time shot to squirm into the net to settle a tense semi-final at Wembley on Saturday.

Federici's costly mistake allowed Arsenal to escape with a win they barely deserved from a performance that got progressively more disjointed after Garath McCleary's second half strike cancelled out Sanchez's 39th minute opener.

Regardless of the manner of their progress, the result took Arsenal ahead of Manchester United on 19 FA Cup final appearances and a victory when they return to Wembley in May would give the north Londoners the trophy for the 12th time, breaking the record they currently share with United.

With the Premier League title looking out of reach after Chelsea's win against United on Saturday, lifting the Cup would maintain the feelgood factor at the end of another season in which Arsenal have glimpses of greatness and moments of fallibility.

"The records show you are consistent, that is the most difficult thing to do," Wenger said.

"Overall any final is a 50-50, but if we can win and get the record that would be great.

"Lets hope we have all our players available when we come back here in the final. We have time to prepare, now lets focus on our next game."


Barca coach Enrique wary of depleted PSG

Luis Enrique

Barcelona head coach Luis Enrique says Paris Saint-Germain still have the ability to hurt his side despite missing a host of key players.

The Catalan giants travel to Paris for their UEFA Champions League quarter-final first leg on Wednesday, but the hosts could be without up to four regular first-team starters.

Former Barca man Zlatan Ibrahimovic is suspended, as is Marco Verratti, while David Luiz (hamstring) and Thiago Motta (thigh) are injured.

Barca have full-back Dani Alves missing, also through suspension, and Luis Enrique says PSG's absentees cannot be allowed to become a distraction.

"They have players missing, that can't be hidden, but remember the group stage game when Ibrahimovic wasn't playing and they beat us [3-2].

"When he did play, we won [3-1 at Camp Nou]. They're important players, no doubt about that, but they've got a deep squad and they're going to create complications for us."

Back in September, David Luiz, Verratti and Blaise Matuidi were all on target in PSG's home triumph in Group F, and the Barca coach is well aware his players cannot afford similar lapses at the back.

"That was not a great game as far as the result was concerned but we came close to the draw," Luis Enrique added.

"We can improve on that, on certain aspects. Particularly in defence we need to improve tomorrow.

"They've got a very, very good team. They're one of the candidates for the title and they beat one of the other candidates [Chelsea, in the last 16].

"It's going to be an open game and I think very entertaining."

Luis Enrique also refused to be drawn on questions concerning Neymar, who reacted angrily to being substituted during Saturday's 2-2 draw with Sevilla.

"I understand that all players want to play and the players should have to understand I have to make decisions," he said.

"From there, you can speculate whatever you want."

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