Cibalia captain Mario Lucic has lit the touchpaper ahead of his side’s clash with Cliftonville this evening by insisting the visitors will have too much in the tank for Eddie Patterson’s side.
The Croatian outfit landed in Belfast yesterday and Lucic admits he doesn’t expect to be overly troubled so long as Cibalia play to their strengths.
“Cliftonville have some weak points which we will find and target,” he said.
“We are faster than them and, if we play the ball on the ground, Cliftonville will be in trouble.”
The 29-year-old defender, who enjoyed a brief spell with Dinamo Zagreb five seasons ago, added his belief that the Reds will rely on their aerial threat to see them through.
“They play the game in the air,” he said, “and won’t look to pass it around on the ground too much.”
While his comments are likely to stoke up fire in the bellies of Cliftonville — who will wear a special European kit this evening — boss Stanko Mrsis was somewhat more diplomatic in his approach.
“Some people tell me that they are amateurs, I wouldn't say so,” he said. “They have 130 years of tradition and stopped being amateurs in 1978.
“Cliftonville are regularly in European matches and, from watching their DVDs, I find them tough, brilliant in the air, strong in the tackle, with a lot of running and hard work with a strong midfield.
“Their goalkeeper is good and they always press opposition players and the ball, with two or three of their own players.”
Mrsic, who landed the Croatian Coach of the Year award for guiding the little-known Sky Blues to third place in the table last season, also admitted he does not know as much about the Reds as he would like — and compared tonight’s match to a wedded couple’s first night together.
“I will only know their full capabilities after the first leg,” he added.
“It's like a marriage — it's not always the same before as it is after and you learn different things, sometimes when it’s too late.
“We have prepared as best we can. We tried to play matches against strong opponents in the build-up to this game.
“Some of those matches went well, some not so well, but we are getting better and better each time and I’m confident we’ll be good when we need to be in Belfast.
“Cliftonville are a good team and we are certainly not underestimating them.
“Our first task is to avoid defeat, second to score. We have a few slight injury concerns but I think we should be OK.”