Zagreb (AFP) – Fresh from ending a 17-month wait for an away La Liga win, Sevilla will seek another scalp on the road at Dinamo Zagreb on Tuesday to take a huge step towards the Champions League last 16.
Victory at the 23rd attempt on the road, 3-2 at Leganes on Saturday, moved Sevilla up to third in La Liga, sandwiched between Real Madrid and Barcelona, as an impressive start to life under Argentine coach Jorge Sampaoli continued.
Results have been just as good in the Champions League as a 0-0 draw at Juventus and 1-0 home win over Lyon means Sampaoli’s men could virtually qualify for the knockout phase with six points from back-to-back games against Group H whipping boys Zagreb.
“It is an important trip. With a win on Tuesday and then against them here we’ll have the group well on course,” said Sevilla president Jose Castro on Monday.
“We are enjoying our best period of the season so far. We aspire to everything, but we need to keep our feet on the ground.”
Sevilla will be boosted by the return of French international defender Adil Rami from injury.
Meanwhile, Sampaoli could recall Gabriel Mercado and Hiroshi Kiyotake after they were left out at Leganes due to long-distance journeys they had respectively made to represent Argentina and Japan on international duty.
– Last 16 in sight
Despite unparallelled success in the Europa League, winning European football’s second tier competition a record five times in the past decade, it is six years since Sevilla made it to the last 16 of the Champions League.
However, they could end that run with two games of the group stage to spare with back-to-back wins against a Dinamo side that has lost 18 of their last 20 Champions League games.
The Croatian outfit was smashed 3-0 and 4-0 respectively by Lyon and Juventus in their opening two games of the campaign.
However, they have improved on the domestic front since former Bulgaria boss Ivaylo Petev replaced Zlatko Kranjcar as coach last month.
“The most important thing is that we defend well and don’t gift Sevilla chances,” Petev said on Monday.
Petev will have to do without suspended striker Davor Lovren, brother of Liverpool defender Dejan Lovren, but otherwise has a fully-fit squad to choose from.