Russian giants FC Zenit Saint Petersburg are currently holding a training camp at Aspire Zone in Doha for the second consecutive year.
Football Qatar’s Samindra Kunti took the opportunity to speak with the team’s vice-captain Nicolas Lombaerts about Zenit’s ambitions this season, the defeat against Al Wakrah, his opinion of Andre Villas Boas and the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
How is the training camp evolving?
Good, it’s hard work. The first training camp is always the toughest one. It is not a lot fun, it’s especially physical work.
You won 18-0 against Al Maliya…
Indeed, a pre-war score. They didn’t prove much of an opponent. We did expect more resistance. The coach said they wanted to prove themselves, because there were some scouts watching. But the game quickly took a decisive turn. I think it was 2-0 after five minutes and then we kept possession to see out the game.
Then you lost 1-0 to Al Wakrah, were you surprised by Al Wakrah’s quality?
We did entertain the idea that they were better than Al Maliya. We really played a bad game. I think the physical conditions also had an impact. We had trained hard before the game. You could see that everyone was tired, more so than during the first game. It was sloppy, we lost the ball often, [there was] a lack of close man-marking. We can only blame ourselves, we didn’t take our chances.
Villas-Boas is trying to implement a 4-3-3 system, is that’s going smoothly?
Yes, we are training on a 4-3-3 with one defensive midfielder. We play with two defensive midfielders usually. It was agreed that during this camp we’d try out 4-3-3. Maybe the next camp we will play a 4-4-2 so that we can adapt a little during matches when it’s needed.
In general, how is it to work with Villas-Boas?
Enjoyable. A lot of training with the ball. That is always fun for a football player. Not too much running, like a lot of coaches do. It’s important to touch and feel the ball. He is a very amiable person.
What are Zenit’s ambitions in 2015?
To win the title of course. That is our biggest target. We are in the lead with seven points. Dynamo [Moscow] have a game in hand. There are 13 games left, so it would be bad if we’d give it away now. Hopefully we can go as far as possible in the Europa League. If we can survive the first games [against PSV Eindhoven] I think we can progress far. It is always tough after our winter break, but if we can survive those games, then we will have more match rhythm.
You will get more match rhythm at the next camp in Turkey with games against Bate Borisov and Legia Warsaw…
Yes, the idea is to prepare progressively. In Spain [the camp after Turkey] we will try to play against Valencia or Malaga or a similar team so that we have played against high-level teams before the league restarts.
Last question. You like Dubai, but what do you think about Qatar?
Yes, Qatar is also beautiful. You can see there is a lot of money here. I like skyscrapers and they have a few here. The Pearl is also nice with a beautiful harbor. I came here on holidays for a few days last year. Maybe they need to promote it a bit more. When I came here there was not a lot of people. But it’s worth to be here.
Do you think Qatar will host a good World Cup?
Yes, there is no doubt that it will be well organized, but if you ask me if you can play in the summer my answer will be no. Even for the fans. It’s a bit difficult to air-condition a whole city. In Brazil the temperatures were at times unbearable so in the summer I think it is just not doable. There is only one option and that is [to play] in the winter. Now the temperature is excellent to play football. Let’s hope that FIFA will be sensible. I think the facilities will be state-of-the-art.