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Shaken Dortmund have tough trip to Russia

By AP - Feb 24,2014 - Last updated at Feb 24,2014

FRANKFURT — Borussia Dortmund, last season’s runner-up, have reached the knockout stages of the Champions League in two successive seasons for the first time in 16 years. 

Supporters hope history repeats itself as the last time this happened, in 1996-7, the club went on to win the trophy under Ottmar Hitzfeld. 

Dortmund travel to St Petersburg for Tuesday’s match against Zenit without several injured stars.

Zenit qualified for the knockout phase for only the second time, with six points, a record low tally for a Champions League group stage. Zenit drew all three home matches.

Dortmund have been trying to deal with injuries to some of their top players all season and suffered another blow over the weekend — on top of the 3-0 loss in Hamburg — when influential midfielder and Germany international Sven Bender was ruled out for 10 weeks with a groin injury.

Striker Robert Lewandowski is battling a cold, and defender Mats Hummels remains doubtful with a strain in his right foot.

Midfielder Jakub Blaszczykowski and defender Neven Subotic are out for the season and midfielder Ilkay Gundogan remains out with a back problem.

Winter break 

Technically, Zenit are still on the winter break as the Russian league waits for the spring thaw to resume. 

The team has been training and playing friendlies in warmer climates. The Russian side has not played a competitive match since the 4-1 group stage loss at Austria Vienna on December 11.

Former Bayern Munich player Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, who is now with Zenit, believes this gives Dortmund an edge, although he also thinks that Dortmund is not what it was last season.

“It is not the same team that reached the final last season. They were much stronger then. Their advantage is the fact they will be in the middle of the season by the time our tie takes place. Their players will be in good shape for sure,” the midfielder said.

Zenit coach Luciano Spalleti has seen Brazil striker Hulk score regularly in friendlies and reliable goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeev is back after injury.

Twin power

Robert Lewandowski is not the only threat in Dortmund’s attack. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been almost as effective — and perhaps even more so since he’s played fewer minutes than Lewandowski.

In the Bundesliga, Lewandowski has scored 14 goals and Aubameyang 13. They’ve scored in four of the previous six Champions League matches this season and counting all competitions, they have accounted for 35 of Dortmund’s 70 goals.

Dortmund’s coach Juergen Klopp has promised his team will bounce back after Saturday’s 3-0 defeat at Hamburg, which had lost eight consecutive games until then.

“You are going to see a different team, we’ll be much better,” Klopp said. “It was a defeat we brought on ourselves.”

Dortmund defender Manuel Friedrich says it was a “one-off” and that it will not affect preparations for the trip to Russia. “If we play to our potential, then we can beat any team,” Friedrich said.

“We won our very difficult Champions League group, so we can approach the last-16 stage with confidence. This defeat against Hamburg doesn’t change a thing,” midfielder Nuri Sahin said. 

Zenit’s German opposition 

Before the 2007/08 season, Zenit had not defeated a German club in European competition. 

Under Dutch coach Dick Advocaat, however, Zenit played five games against Bundesliga sides in going all the way to win the UEFA Cup, the predecessor competition of the Europa League.

Zenit first drew 2-2 at home to Nuremberg in the group stage and won 4-1 away against Bayer Leverkusen in the quarterfinals before losing 1-0 at home. 

In the last four, Zenit followed up a 1-1 draw at Bayern Munich by winning the return leg 4-0.

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