It’s not the Champions League Final tonight, but for Francesco Guidolin and Udinese, the return leg in the play-off round of the Champions League against Sporting Braga may as well be.
That was made perfectly clear by a comment the coach made half way through his press conference:
“This is the most important game I’ve ever been involved in. I don’t think I’ll get another chance (of being involved in a game this big again).”
“This game is one of extraordinary importance and we have to play a perfect game. We have to be completely focussed to fulfil the dream we’ve been chasing for 2 seasons. We know the challenge in front of us and we want to qualify for the next stage. Naturally, the same can be said for my opposite number, (Braga coach) Peseiro. But everything will be decided on the pitch,” a nervous-looking Guidolin said.
The coach always looks nervous before games – and he never does anything to disguise it:
“Tension is very high. But there’s not much pressure. And it’s solely down to my players if we’ve come this far. Now we have to try to grab that ticket to the next stage of the Champions League. And it’s not always a given that a side that changes year in, year out, plays as well as in previous seasons. I can’t tell you that. I’m not a fortune-teller.”
Apart from the tension, Udinese find themselves in a good position following the 1-1 draw from the 1st leg: they have the advantage that a 0-0 would see them through, on away goals.
“I’ve put the result of the 1st leg completely out of my mind,” Guidolin explained. “I’m just thinking about this game as a one-off game, with the result very much in the balance.”
And that balance is so delicate that even a single incident could tip the game in favour of one side or the other.
“Yes. That could happen. But football is about sides creating chances for themselves. It’s better to have 10 efforts on goal and be dangerous, rather than not try. Incidents, if they happen, are a result of the way the game develops.” The advice to his players is that a performance such as the one in the 1st leg may not be good enough to ensure qualification, even though Braga were only really a threat via long-range efforts last time. “Braga are a good side. They have quality. Experience. They’re strong and aren’t only dangerous with shots from outside the penalty area. We’ll need to be completely focussed against a lively, quality side, who’ll have prepared well for this game.”
The coach is likely to start with the same 11 players who started the 1st leg – and that includes Pinzi, who has been suffering from a slight knee injury.