HIBS today began a whirlwind tour of Europe which will see Pat Fenlon’s outfit play four matches in three different countries in the space of just seven days.
After touching down in Amsterdam, the Easter Road squad made the journey to the seaside town of Vlissingen in the south-west of the country which will be their base for the next six days.
From there Hibs will twice foray into Belgium, travelling to face Lierse SK in the tiny Stadion VC Herentals tomorrow night and then repeating the journey on Saturday to take on OH Leuven in the Den Dreef Stadium in Heverlee before meeting a Zeeland Select in Vlissingen the following day.
Just 24 hours later Fenlon’s players will be on the move again, making the 500-mile trip into Germany to play Bundesliga 2 club Union Berlin on Tuesday and returning home to Edinburgh the next day.
It’s a hectic schedule which also includes daily training sessions but, Fenlon insisted, while it will prove testing, his players, who wrap up their preparations for the new season when they host Championship new boys Huddersfield Town at Easter Road on Saturday, July 28, will reap the benefits in the months to come.
And although Lierse and Leuven finished in the bottom half of the Jupiler League last season – 12th and 14th respectively – Fenlon believes football in that country is on the up, pointing to the number of Belgian players starring in the English Premier League and others around Europe.
The Hibs boss insisted it was only when those players gather together, such as their friendly against England at Wembley ahead of Euro 2012, you can fully appreciate the talent of a nation which crept up one place in the latest FIFA rankings, now just four slots below Scotland, one of their group opponents when the World Cup qualifying campaign gets underway.
Although Hibs won’t be meeting players of the calibre of Everton’s Merouane Fellaini, Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard of Chelsea, Manchester City’s Vincent Kompany, Thomas Vermaelen of Arsenal, Spurs’ Jan Vertonghen or Moussa Dembele of Fulham, Lierse and Leuven will prove to be a step up in calibre of opposition from that offered by Second Division East Fife in the Capital club’s first pre-season friendly.
Fenlon said: “It will be testing for us, they are team thats will keep the ball and make us work, that’s what pre-season is about, getting the fitness levels up and making sure we hit the ground running when it comes to our first league game.
“They have some good under-age teams in Belgium, I’ve seen them play in Dublin over the years at 16, 17 and 19s level. They are producing some really good players and their national team is really strong and it is not until they are all together you appreaciate the players they have.”