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Hero Moti is ready to shake up the big boys

By Simon Harte

For all the rich possibilities of the new Champions League campaign at Anfield, it will take something special from Liverpool this season to match the drama their opening visitors, Ludogorets Razgrad, have already scripted simply to be there with them.

After all, the Bulgarian newcomers are only rubbing shoulders with the Reds thanks to Cosmin Moti, the Romania international defender who morphed into a goalkeeping hero in their play-off penalty shoot-out victory against Steaua Bucharest.

With keeper Vladislav Stoyanov sent off he took the gloves and, as he commented, duly "got lucky" against the team he once faced in local derbies with Dinamo Bucharest.

Reliving that night at Sofia's National Stadium, he said: "I'd never been in goal in a real game, not even really in training – only to joke around, but I had no pressure on me. For me it was like, 'OK, if I save one it will be great'."

As it was, the 29-year-old saved two – and scored one for good measure – and it was more than great.

The team from a town of 35,000 people, are bound for Anfield and the Bernabeu. Moreover, a club with an average home crowd of 3,405 and summer transfer spend of £2.4m could look forward to an estimated £12m windfall.

"It was a crazy night," said Moti.

"It was the next day when everybody tried to call me that I realised how special it was. It is a dream for every player from this team.

"It is a chance for us to play the best – we are meeting two of the best teams in the world and another good team in Basel."

In the Champions League context, Ludogorets rise is a fairy tale, but they are no Cinderellas back at home where the wealth of owner Kiril Domuschiev – a shipping and pharmaceutical tycoon – has made them Bulgarian champions for three years running since their 2011 elevation to the A League.

This time 12 months ago they had never won a European game, but last term's run to the last 16 of the Europa League featured four straight away victories and has created confidence.

Moti added: "We won at PSV Eindhoven, a big team, and at Lazio (1-0 in the round of 32) and it was a good experience. It has helped us for this year."

It was all the more impressive for the fact their home ties were played 250 miles from Razgrad.

The 6,600-capacity Ludogorets Arena is not fit for Uefa matches, hence the relocation to Sofia where against Valencia in the round of 16, the national anthem was sung before kick-off to stir up a capacity crowd.

"Last year against Lazio there were 35-40,000 people; with Valencia it was the same and they were all behind us," said Moti.

Now for the really big guns.

"It will be hard to win or get a point from Liverpool and Real Madrid, but I don't want people to think we will go there thinking we are beaten – we will go to Anfield to play. I hope we can play good football and that afterwards we can hold our heads up high."

The key players

Dejan Lovren: Lovren has previous Champions League experience with Lyon and Dinamo Zagreb and is viewed as the new leader at the heart of the defence, although his first few games have not been entirely convincing. Europe’s premier club tournament is the ideal stage to remind fans of his undoubted class.

Marcelinho: Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard is now firmly entrenched in his holding midfield role and his main concern defensively will be keeping an eye on Marcelinho, who has two goals from midfield in qualifying matches. Marcelinho has the tools to unlock the home defence.

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