Zola heading into the unknown with his Watford team
Gianfranco Zola has played in FA Cup and European finals and at the World Cup, but he says nothing could have prepared him for the npower Championship play-offs.
The former Chelsea and Italy superstar takes his Watford side to Leicester for Thursday night's semi-final first leg after they narrowly missed out on automatic promotion on Saturday. A last-gasp defeat by Leeds condemned the Hornets to the play-offs when a victory would have taken them into the Barclays Premier League.
Zola now faces the biggest game in his fledgling managerial career, although he stressed: "They said that about Saturday! But there is always a bigger game ahead of you. The next one is important and the second leg on Sunday even more important."
He added: "If I want to be a successful manager I have to play important game after important game, it is a challenge.
"I never played a play-off as a player so I can only imagine the importance is more like playing at a World Cup or European Championship. You are playing a series of finals. But we will take it step by step."
Meanwhile, Kasper Schmeichel hopes that Leicester's good fortune continues. By his own admission, the Foxes needed "a miracle" to keep their promotion dream alive following a 2-1 home defeat to Watford in their penultimate match of the season 12 days ago.
It meant that Nigel Pearson's side went into the final game of the campaign at east midlands rivals Nottingham Forest eighth in the table, behind their opponents, and needing to win a league fixture at the City Ground for the first time since 1972 if they were to have any chance of sneaking into the top six.
Even then Leicester were reliant on Bolton not beating Blackpool at home, but the miracle happened, and in the most dramatic fashion. Anthony Knockaert's injury-time goal gave the Foxes a thrilling 3-2 victory over Forest, ending their play-off hopes, and Bolton were held to a 2-2 draw at the Reebok Stadium.
Ahead of the clash at the King Power Stadium, goalkeeper Schmeichel said: "I think we were all looking to the football gods after the Watford game. We had to hope and pray for a miracle, but thankfully we got one.
"At the start of the season, the play-offs were the minimum requirement but as the season has progressed I think we have to be pleased with it. Lady Luck has shined on us and I hope she continues to do so."
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