Stoke out to seal spot in last 32

 

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The Independent Football

Book your place in the knock-out stages of the Europa League and spare yourselves a potentially combustible final Group E fixture away to Besiktas. That is the message Tony Pulis will drum into his Stoke City players before they meet Dynamo Kiev at the Britannia Stadium tonight.

A draw against the undefeated Ukrainian leaders would guarantee Pulis's side a spot in the last 32. Victory, however, would see Stoke advance as group winners – and take the heat out of the "Welcome to Hell" factor so often a feature of English clubs' trips to Istanbul.

The Stoke manager described the collision with Dynamo as "a cup final" and is aware how charged the tussle with Besiktas could yet become. "I've been out there to see a Turkish league game and the atmosphere was fantastic. Drums, flares; the place was rocking. Apparently the European nights are even better. But we're trying to win this game, to get the job finished. If we don't, we've got a back-stop."

Matthew Upson, the former England defender, was equally keen to steer clear of the group winners when the competition resumes in February and avoid the four teams with the best records of the eight dropping down from the Champions League. "This is a really tough one. With Besiktas to come, we need to throw everything at it to try to seal qualification against Kiev."

Upson, who will face former Chelsea striker Andrei Shevchenko after operating as sweeper in Kiev, was on England's bench in Istanbul eight years ago. "It was when Becks [David Beckham] smashed a penalty over the bar and there was a riot in the tunnel at half-time. The fans are there three hours before kick-off, banging on drums. [Turkish teams] are a real force at home in Europe. So it's a big push for us to get the job done here, then the pressure will be off a little in that game."

Pulis is justifiably proud of Stoke's eight-game unbeaten run. "The only disappointment has been the away games being so far away," he said. "The supporters would love the opportunity of a horde of them going somewhere like Spain, Italy or Holland."

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