European Football - Red Star's Sa Pinto braced for title comeback derby

Ricardo Sa Pinto had only a forlorn hope of ending Red Star Belgrade's title drought when he became coach in March but the club is on the verge of completing a memorable fightback when they visit Partizan on Saturday.

Reuters
European Football - Red Star's Sa Pinto braced for title comeback derby
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Sa Pinto

Red Star, who last won the Serbian championship in 2007 before relinquishing their supremacy to bitter city foes Partizan, were 11 points behind the champions and league leaders when the 40-year old former Portugal forward replaced Aleksandar Jankovic.

Having engineered an eight-game winning streak, during which Partizan's lead was slashed to just two points, Sa Pinto was confident Red Star had what it takes to prevent their arch-rivals from clinching a record sixth successive league title.

"We've had a fantastic week in training and the players are raring to go in what should be a great derby," Sa Pinto told a news conference on Friday with an optimistic grin on his face.

"We can achieve what very few people, apart from the players and myself, thought was possible when I took over and a win would put us in the driving seat ahead of the last two rounds.

Partizan have 64 points from 27 matches and Red Star are on 62.

"The ideal scenario would be a winner as late as Chelsea's against Benfica in the Europa League final on Wednesday but, of course, we will take any victory tomorrow, within the code of fair play and sportsmanship," said Sa Pinto, who was sacked by Sporting Lisbon last October following a 3-0 Europa League defeat by Hungarians Videoton.

"It's one of the biggest games of my coaching career, in the same bracket with the Lisbon derby against Benfica which we won after a four-year barren spell, the Europa League clash with Manchester City and the Portuguese Cup final," added Sa Pinto who nurtured a fierce rivalry with Benfica during his playing and coaching days at Sporting.

Partizan coach Vuk Rasovic has no such experience, having replaced Vladimir Vermezovic just three weeks ago after working as an assistant under three different managers since 2009.

Rasovic, a former Partizan defender whose brightest moment was scoring a penalty which knocked out Newcastle United in the now defunct Cup Winners Cup in 1998, suggested his team were prepared to take risks even though a draw would leave them in pole position.

"We will try to keep our feet on the gas pedal from start to finish and we certainly won't play for a draw or adopt a cagey approach, although we would benefit from a share of the spoils," he said.

"This is the kind of game which can produce heroes and my team has plenty of characters who cam emerge as heroes from what I expect to be an action-packed and high-scoring encounter."

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