Atlético Madrid make the second longest trip in Champions League history this week, with a 7,000 mile journey required for their visit to Astana on Tuesday evening.
Diego Simeone’s side won the reverse fixture 4-0 at the Vicente Calderón a fortnight ago, but can expect a whole different proposition in Kazakhstan with temperatures as low as -11°C forecasted.
As mainland Europe is five hours behind, kick-off in the Astana Arena is at the earlier time of 16:00 CET.
Following three successive wins, Lucas Pérez’s late equaliser for Deportivo on Friday dampened the mood a little in the Atleti camp ahead of their long journey east, but they can put that right should they get the win tomorrow night.
With Benfica taking on Galatasaray in the group’s other game, three points against Astana would take us to within a win or even a draw of the last 16 depending on the result in Lisbon.
Teams often bemoan having to travel long distances and play in difficult conditions in the likes of Russia and Ukraine, but those trips look rather straightforward in comparison to what Atleti have in store on Tuesday.
The traveling party touched down in Astana late last night after a 7 hour flight, and braced the cold this evening to train on the artificial pitch.
Cholo opted to bring along everyone available to him, but is without Argentine front men Ángel Correa, who is becoming a father for the first time, and Luciano Vietto, still recovering from appendix surgery last month.
In his press conference, the 45 year-old tactician was under no illusions ahead of the game and pinpointed it’s significance, rather than roll out the excuses early.
“Of the three matches that are left, I have no doubt that this is the most important one.” he told press. “We face a very difficult team at their home and the result will be decisive for us.”
“The conditions don’t bother us. We grow up playing in wind, sun, cold and rain, we have to go out and play football and not look beyond that.”
Astana opted to rest players when they played in Madrid two weeks ago, but will come out at full strength on Tuesday and try to save their place in the competition.
Teams from Kazakhstan have competed in the Europa League and the qualifying rounds of the Champions League before, but they are the first ever representatives to reach the group stage.
They are in good form at the moment with 5 wins from 6, and are particularly strong at home, holding Galatasaray to a 2-2 draw back in September in front of a noisy 30,000 capacity crowd.
Winning their first ever win in the tournament will be the motivation, and beating a club like Atleti would be a major scalp both for them and Kazakh football.
However, they were 3-0 losers the only other time they have hosted Spanish opposition, although that was in warmer conditions against Villarreal back in August 2014.
“We know that Atlético are strong, but we will play at our maximum,” said manager Stanimir Stoilov in his press conference. “Our plan is to play football and do everything to win.”
Earlier in the day in the same stadium, our youth team take on Astana’s Under-19 outfit in the UEFA Youth League. The young rojiblancos won 7-1 in the first meeting, and kick-off at 8am Spanish time.
After the game, Atleti will return to Madrid and begin preparation for Sunday’s league meeting with Sporting Gijón at the Calderón.
Atlético match selection
Goalkeepers: Moyá, Oblak
Defenders: Godín, Filipe Luis, Siqueira, Savic, Gámez, Lucas, Juanfran, Giménez
Midfielders: Tiago, Koke, Óliver, Gabi, Saúl, Carrasco, Thomas
Forwards: Griezmann, Torres, Jackson
Referee: Anthony Taylor (England)