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Anita confident despite the potential pitfalls of plastic
VURNON Anita claims Newcastle United are capable of winning the Europa League, but the Magpies will have to negotiate a plastic pitch in order to progress to the quarter-finals of the competition.
Thursday's 1-0 win over Metalist Kharkiv set up a last-16 encounter with Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala, with Newcastle due to play the away leg first.
Anzhi are based in the war-torn southern region of Dagestan, but UEFA deem the political situation too dangerous to allow them to stage home games in their own Dynamo Stadium.
As a result, Newcastle will travel to Moscow on Thursday, March 7 to face Anzhi in Spartak Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium.
The 78,360-capacity venue boasts an artificial pitch, enabling it to stage matches despite temperatures in the Russian winter dropping as low as minus ten.
The Luzhniki hosted the 2008 Champions League final between Chelsea and Manchester United and was the venue for England's 2-1 defeat to Russia in a European Championships qualifier in 2007.
Anzhi have staged 'home' games at a number of different venues in Moscow, but their players will be accustomed to the artificial surface that will greet the Newcastle squad a week on Thursday and will hope to gain a significant advantage as a result.
The second leg will take place on Tyneside on Thursday, March 14 (8.05pm), and the Magpies will hope to have established a strong position by the time they return to the North-East.
Newcastle have never played a competitive fixture in Russia, but after overcoming a hostile atmosphere to secure a notable success in Ukraine on Thursday, Anita is confident his team-mates are capable of triumphing against Anzhi to establish themselves as genuine contenders for a place in the Europa League final in the Amsterdam Arena in May.
“We must take it step by step, but the belief must always be there that we can win it, otherwise you'll never win something,” said the Magpies midfielder. “We believe we can win this competition, and we'll do our best.
“It was a very good performance by us in Ukraine. We kept a zero (clean sheet) and that's important in those games. We nicked a goal, and that was enough. We know it's difficult to play away in those countries, but we're through to the next round so everybody's happy.”
There will be an even greater degree of satisfaction if Newcastle see off Southampton in the Premier League tomorrow, with Alan Pardew's side just four points clear of the relegation zone ahead of today's round of fixtures.
“Coming back with a win gives us a boost for the game with Southampton,” said Anita. “Everybody is in a good mood and you always recover a little bit quicker if you win. We are ready for the game. It's an important game for us and we need to win that too.”
* Newcastle's European commitments mean their home game with Stoke City has been put back 24 hours to Sunday, March 10.
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