By Zoran Milosavljevic
BELGRADE (Reuters) – Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino said he expects the home Red Star Belgrade fans to generate a fervent atmosphere when the two teams clash on Wednesday in a potentially explosive Champions League fixture.
Red Star’s Rajko Mitic stadium is renowned for it noise and electric atmosphere on European nights, as Champions League holders Liverpool found out in a 2-0 group-stage defeat in the Serbian capital last season.
The encounter could also prove pivotal for qualification with one point separating Spurs and Red Star in Group B.
“I heard many things about this stadium and it’s going to be fantastic to be here tomorrow,” Tottenham’s Argentine boss Pochettino told a news conference on Tuesday.
“We respect Red Star a lot but at the same time we need to play in the best way and be ready to fight because it’s a new stadium to play in.”
Spurs captain Harry Kane said he hoped there would be no repeat of the racist abuse England players suffered in Sofia during last month’s Euro 2020 qualifier.
The match in the Bulgarian capital, which England went on to win 6-0, was twice stopped under a three-step UEFA protocol after England’s black players were abused.
“Hopefully it doesn’t happen and we play a football match tomorrow,” he said. “It will be a tough football match and we focus on that. If it does happen there is a (UEFA) protocol in place like there was in Sofia.”
Red Star coach Vladan Milojevic ruled out any possibility of the Serbian club’s fans causing trouble.
“I hope Spurs fans turn up in numbers because they will be completely safe here,” he said.
“We have quite a few players coming from different continents and backgrounds so racism has no place here. We will show our hospitality tomorrow.”
Speaking about Red Star’s chances of avenging a 5-0 defeat by Spurs in the reverse fixture, Milojevic said:
“This is not PlayStation, it’s real life. Taking the game to a team like Spurs is easier said than done, but we will do everything humanly possible to play our best football and get a result.”
Spurs are second in the group on four points from three games, one ahead of Red Star and five behind leaders Bayern Munich who thrashed them 7-2 in North London last month. Bottom team Olympiakos have no points.
After a rocky start to the season in the Premier League, Pochettino acknowledged beating Red Star would be vital for morale.
“The most important thing is to be in the next stage of the Champions League, but a win would also be massive for our confidence,” he said.
(Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic; Editing by Toby Davis)