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Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Schalke eye knockout stages

Stephan Uersfeld, Germany Correspondent

Ahead of Schalke's Champions League Group B match against Olympiakos on Wednesday, boss Huub Stevens is targeting qualification for the tournament's knockout stages with one match to spare.

The Royal Blues currently top their group with eight points and victory against Olympiakos would see the Bundesliga side through to the next round, something Stevens considers a sizeable task.

"The players can complete a great achievement," Stevens said during the pre-match press conference. "To qualify for the first knockout round with one match still left to play."

Olympiakos, runaway leaders in the Greek Super League, travel to Gelsenkirchen in formidable form having won ten and drawn one domestically, while also claiming back-to-back victories against Montpellier in the Champions League. They trail Schalke by two points, with Arsenal sandwiched between them on seven points.

"We know what we're up against," Stevens said. "Olympiakos have secured some very good results in Greece and in the Champions League recently, but we're at home and we have to show that."

Schalke, who slipped to a 2-0 loss away to Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga at the weekend, expect a defensive formation, with the focus on counter-attacks. "I think they'll try to operate with counter-attacks and long balls forward to their powerful striker (Konstantinos Mitroglou)," said Stevens.

Olympiakos boss Leonardo Jardim confirmed this train of thought: "We want to be good in defence, to block Schalke attacks and to fully use our scoring potential. We came here to win in order to automatically enter the next match of Europa League.

"And we want to leave the last match in order to claim our future in Champions League. Of, course we are not seeking a 0-0 score, since this is a certain path to lose the match."

Schalke general manager Horst Heldt underlined the importance of the match, sensing an opportunity for the club to make a giant stride forward in their development.

"This, so far, is the most important match of the season," he told the club's official website. We have the big chance to qualify for the knockout stage with one game left in hand and to stay in Champions League over the winter.

"This would be important for the team but it would also be an important and pleasant step into the right direction for the club."

The Royal Blues have had their fair share of transfer rumours this season, with key players Lewis Holtby and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar being linked to Premier League clubs and Barcelona loanee Ibrahim Afellay recently expressing his wishes to return to Barcelona after the season ends.

Qualification for the knockout stages of the competition would make contract talks easier for Heldt.

Schalke are likely to be without Afellay, who is still suffering from a thigh injury picked up in Netherlands' match against Germany last week.

"I don't think Ibi will be able to play," Stevens said. "It doesn't look as if he'll be fit in time." Schalke could also be without Japanese full back Atsuto Uchida and former Germany international Christoph Metzelder, while midfielder Marco Hoger is definitely ruled out with an ankle injury.

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