Think Arsenal will have an easy ride in Belgrade? Think again...
PUBLISHED: 16:24 27 September 2010 | UPDATED: 11:13 14 October 2010
IT is 32 years since Arsenal last played in Belgrade but so much has changed in those three decades, not least the name of the country. The former capital of Yugoslavia was ravaged by the horror of the Balkan war in the early 1990s, became part of Serbia
IT is 32 years since Arsenal last played in Belgrade but so much has changed in those three decades, not least the name of the country.
The former capital of Yugoslavia was ravaged by the horror of the Balkan war in the early 1990s, became part of Serbia and Montenegro and, since 2006, the capital of independent Serbia.
While that nation's history is relatively new, the city itself boasts a footballing past that has a fine European pedigree, although much of that belongs to Partizan's bitter rivals, Red Star.
It was they who defeated Arsenal 1-0 in Belgrade in the third round of the Uefa Cup back in 1978, and a 1-1 draw in the second leg at Highbury knocked out Terry Neill's side.
Red Star, now known by their Serbian name of Crvena Zvezda, famously won the European Cup in 1991 before the dawn of the Champions League era, beating a Marseille side featuring England's Chris Waddle, on penalties in the final.
That seems hard to believe in a competition now dominated by Europe's glamour names, but it serves to remind Arsenal that they are not visiting a nation of football novices.
Whisper it quietly in Serbia, but Partizan's record does not quite match up to their cross-city rivals' illustrious past, although Partizan did reach the European Cup final in 1966, only to be beaten by Real Madrid.
However, since Serbian independence, Partizan have dominated the domestic Superliga, and completed a hat-trick of league titles last season, propelling them into the Champions League qualifiers where they defeated Anderlecht of Belgium on penalties after a brace of 2-2 draws to take their place in the group stages.
They were beaten 1-0 in the Ukraine by Shakhtar Donetsk in last week's opening game, but are set to be a different proposition in their FK Partizan Stadion, home to their infamous supporters the 'grobari'.
That translates to gravediggers in English, and is the name ironically given to them by their rivals Red Star, based on their predominantly black kit and black and white club colours.
The grobari have a reputation as some of Europe's noisiest, and often prepare spectacular banners and synchronised crowd movements, while firecrackers and red flares are the norm.
On Tuesday night Arsenal will be thankful they will not be greeted with a crowd as hostile as the one reserved for Red Star in one of the most passionate derby clashes in Europe, coined the 'eternal derby'.
Home advantage certainly made a difference in Partizan's only previous appearance at this stage in 2003, when they drew all three home games in a tough group with Marseille, Real Madrid and eventual champions, Jose Mourinho's Porto.
That should temper any illusions Arsenal have about this being an easy game, with manager Alexander Stanojevic having a large number of the Serbian squad who beat Germany 1-0 during the group stages of the World Cup finals in South Africa.
They also have a handful of useful foreign players, most notably Brazilian No9 Cleo, who became the first player for over 20 years to move between the Belgrade clubs when he swapped Red Star for Partizan two years ago.
His goals helped lead Partizan to a third successive title last season, and he has already scored three this season as Partizan, much like Chelsea in England, have won their first five games and conceded just one goal to lead the table by two points from Red Star.
To add to that, they captured the title last season without losing a single game and won 14 out of their 15 home games, drawing the other 0-0.
Arsenal are heading into a bearpit , and it is one from which they will do well to emerge unbeaten.
Prediction: Partizan 1 Arsenal 1
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